BY Taurai Mangudhla
ZIMBABWE should enjoy a decent harvest for all crops in the current season due to good rains that have been consistent in the past few weeks, farmers’ organisations say.
A good harvest for cereals would ease pressure on the national purse which has been strained by maize and wheat imports. Zimbabwe, with over half of its population food insecure, is spending around US$46 million a month on imports of cereals and crude oil, according to latest central bank figures following years of successive droughts and reduced production by farmers due to lack of capital.
For cash crops, especially tobacco which is the number one agricultural export for the country and is among the top foreign currency earners, it means more foreign receipts.
For tobacco farmers, the good rains are positive news and point to a better harvest than prior year, barring unforeseen negative factors.
Zimbabwe Tobacco Association CEO Rodney Ambrose said the industry body was currently working on an updated crop assessment report for the sector, outlining the situation and prospects in line with developments in the current season.
The report, which was expected to have been published by the end of last year, is being updated in light of the recent rains.
“To be honest with you, we are actually in the process of doing another assessment because the report is a bit outdated now because of the rains that have come in the past plus or minus three weeks or so, it has changed a lot. So we are going to need a few more days to look into it,” Ambrose said.
He, however, expressed optimism saying the rains are a positive for the sector.
“They are good for the industry; we always need good rains so they are good for tobacco and other crops as well.
“The rains will fill up the dams to be used for irrigation and also they are good for the late crop,” Ambrose said “This is definitely going to lift prospects for good ”
Despite the good rains, tobacco output remains under threat as the sector is adversely affected by foreign currency shortages. Farmers are paid half their money in forex and the other part in local currency at the prevailing interbank rate that is always by far lower than parallel market rates. This has been a huge cost to farmers who procure most of their inputs in hard currency and often at above parallel market rates. Zimbabwe is the largest tobacco producer in Africa and sixth in the world. Tobacco accounts for about 10% of the country’s GDP and a significant chunk of employment.
The 2020/21 tobacco season officially started in early September and by mid-September, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) reported an almost 60% slump in the number of registered farmers compared to last year apparently due to unfavourable payment arrangements during the 2019/20 season.
According to TIMB statistics, 180,8 million kilogrammes valued at US$452,3 million were delivered at the country’s contract and auction floors by September 2020, the end of the tobacco marketing season.
During the same period in 2019, 240 million kg valued US$479 million went under the hammer.
Commercial Farmers Union president Andrew Pascoe said the rainfall situation was favourable for all crops across the country although there were cases of excessive rains, in particular around Kwekwe and Selous.
“However, we still need good rains in January, February and March to fill the dams because dams are very low, but the crop is looking very good,” Pascoe said.
In the current season, Pascoe said, delays in the distribution of command agriculture inputs were likely to affect output.
“For the larger commercial operations, there have been delays getting payment for the wheat deliveries which were made in October, this affects farmers because they rely on this income for their other operations. As farmers, we always make a plan but it can affect capacity,” he added.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) warned that Zimbabwe’s national cereal supply for the 2020/21 marketing year is significantly below-average, with national self-sufficiency estimated at less than 50% compared to the five-year average of about 70%, not considering imports.
Fewsnet said: “Cumulative rainfall for the 2020/21 rainfall season is expected to be average. This will likely result in near-normal areas planted and average crop production for the 2020/21 agricultural season.
“Based on current low import levels, the 2020/21 national cereal gap of nearly 1 million MT is unlikely to be closed by the end of the marketing year in March 2021.
“Maize and maize meal supplies will continue to be below average across most markets. Some remote markets are expected to have limited to no stocks, especially in January to March, the peak lean season.”
Although seed and fertiliser producers assured farmers of adequate stocks for the 2020/21 agricultural season, Fewsnet said access to inputs was limited.
“This is driven mainly by high and increasing prices of inputs, below-normal household incomes, high transport costs, and transport challenges in some rural areas.
Inputs are primarily sold in United States dollars at or above parallel market exchange rates in Zimbabwe dollars, making them unaffordable to many poor farmers, Fewsnet said.
Despite challenges in the sector, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube projects economic growth to rebound in 2021 from the consecutive two-year slump to record 7,4%, driven from the supply side as a result of strong recovery in agriculture, mining, electricity, construction, transport and communication as well as finance and insurance. Agriculture is expected to grow by 11,3% in 2021.
He said starting with the 2021 national budget, the target was to increase agriculture output to US$8,2 billion by 2025 and accordingly, $46,3 billion was allocated to the Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement ministry.
The Finance minister underscored that the success of his plan hinged on access and timely financing arrangements, mitigation against climatic change; guaranteeing viability and competitiveness of farming businesses and protecting the environment for sustainability of the sector.
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