Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

***The views expressed in the articles published on this website DO NOT necessarily express the views of the Commercial Farmers' Union.***

Farming season in disarray

Farming season in disarray

Thursday, 17 November 2011 18:05

Paul Nyakazeya

WHEN heavy downpours hit most parts of Zimbabwe in early October, farmers 
began preparing their land for the traditional planting season despite not 
having enough inputs.  But faltering weather patterns in the region are 
creating uncertainty about when the best time to plant crops is, forcing 
farmers to either rely on their own observations and judgment, or the 
sometimes conflicting advice of meteorologists. Whichever way you look, 
climate change is taking its toll.
For Zimbabwean farmers it’s a double edged sword as farming inputs are not 
readily available and too expensive for many. Farmers are also failing to 
access loans to buy implements and inputs.

Some Zimbabwean farmers are no longer confident about the agricultural 
season since the Grain Marketing Board — traditionally a source of seed and 
fertiliser — has indicated that it would not provide free farming inputs to 
small-scale growers.

The immediate past president of the Commercial Farmers Union Deon Theron 
told the Zimbabwe Independent that this farming season was uncertain as in 
previous years farmers were able to access loans to buy inputs.

“As a country we will be forced to import food again to make up for the 
shortfalls that seem inevitable,” said Theron. “Regarding loans, most 
farmers do not have anything to offer as security and this is worsened by 
the liquidity problems affecting the country in general,” he said.

An average A2  farm is between 10 and 15 acres in size. A farmer would need 
about 400kg of compound D fertiliser for one hectare of land, and about 
250kg of seed is needed for one to plant on the same amount of land. 
However, success largely depends on the planting population and type of 
Zimbabwe Farmers Union president Silas Hungwe said the perennial challenge 
facing local farmers in acquiring inputs was now legendary.

“As a union we are worried but hopeful government will assist communal 
farmers to avoid importing maize to meet shortfalls,” said Hungwe. “However, 
in urban centres, input shortages and high transport costs could be brought 
to an end by spreading agro-dealerships,” he said.

Hungwe said at least 250 000 smallholder farmers would benefit from the 
revival of agro-dealership programmes meant to improve their access to 
technology and inputs. The farmers would be drawn from four of the country’s 
10 provinces.

Communal farmers said the financially-troubled GMB was still paying farmers 
for grain they delivered last season instead of giving them subsidised or 
free farming inputs.

Colin Muyambo, a farmer in Manicaland province, said they would not till 
their land to previous levels unless the GMB provided agricultural inputs. 
Muyambo said a 10kg bag of maize seed now costs up to US$22. He said farmers 
were struggling to raise funds for inputs.

“We could not afford to ignore these early rains as we feared we could lose 
out if it was (indeed) the onset of the season,” said Muyambo.
Like many smallholder farmers who cannot afford irrigation schemes, Muyambo 
said he had to rely on rainfall.
However, the early rains welcomed by farmers last month was downplayed by 
the country’s meteorological department, which said the precipitation did 
not herald the rainy season.

The meteorologists’ warning that farmers should not begin planting their 
crops has left many confused.
“No one now knows about the cycle (of rainfall) anymore, and even the people 
who tell us these things are not sure themselves,” Muyambo said.
Farmers have been appealing to government to “quickly” release funds under 
the US$45 million Subsidised Inputs Facility for the 2011 summer cropping to 
ensure early planning.

With the rainy season setting in, farmers said they would like more action 
on the ground and not just promises.
Presenting the country’s mid-term fiscal policy review in July, Finance 
minister Tendai Biti said his ministry’s original growth projection for 2010 
was 7%.  However, fragile prospects for recovery in economic performance 
demand a reduction of this figure.

“We have, thus, revised our growth projection for 2010 to 5,4%,” Biti said. 
“The revised projection figure of 5,4% should not be taken for granted.  A 
business as usual mentality will certainly guarantee a further downward 
revision,” he said.

ZFU director Paul Zakariya said while it was important that government 
allocate resources towards funding for this year’s summer cropping.
“We will only believe it if the funds are released,” said Zakariya. “What 
happened last season should not be allowed if the country is to produce 
enough,” he said.

In the past, government would release less money compared to what it would 
have promised, greatly affecting agricultural production.
“We have had so many promises which never materialised. There also has to be 
a lot of trust between government and input manufacturers so that they can 
release the inputs,” he said.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Donald Khumalo said the 
programme maybe beneficial to farmers depending on the method used to 
disburse the inputs. He said there should be strict monitoring and control 
measures for the inputs to get to farmers.

“Normally, the facility is abused and Agritex officers and farmers unions 
should assist in spearheading the programme,” said Khumalo.
The Famine Early Warning System Network (Fewsnet), an early warning system 
funded by USAid that monitors food security around the world, has over the 
last 10 years estimated that Zimbabwe’s food was insecure.

Government has dismissed Fewnet projections as wrong. Agriculture, 
Mechanisation and Irrigation Development minister Joseph Made said Fewsnet’s 
projections did not portray the correct situation on the ground, suggesting 
that it should leave Zimbabwe alone and go to countries where it is wanted.

Once regarded as the breadbasket of southern Africa in the first decade of 
Independence, Zimbabwe has become a basket case and a perennial importer of 
food in the past 10 years. It also heavily relies on food handouts from aid 
agencies after farm invasions of the early 2000s disrupted the country’s 
agricultural production.


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