HARARE, March 2 (The Source) – The government’s special maize production programme, which planned 400,000 hectares of the staple crop, only saw about 38 percent of that target planted by the second week of February, Agriculture Minister Joseph Made told Parliament on Thursday.
Through the programme, commonly known as ‘command agriculture’, government sought to guarantee the production of 2 million tonnes of maize, more than enough to meet the country’s annual demand.
However, the $500 million scheme was plagued by poor execution and logistical problems which saw many farmers receiving their inputs late. Zimbabwe also had a nationwide shortage of top-dressing fertilizer, which manufacturers blamed on import delays caused by the central bank’s stringent foreign currency processing procedures.
Made told lawmakers that as at February 9, 153,000 hectares of ‘command agriculture’ land had been planted, out of 191,124 hectares that had been tilled.
Despite the underwhelming returns from ‘command agriculture’, an overall 61 percent increase in maize hectarage and above-normal rains have made the government optimistic that Zimbabwe, which produced just over 500,000 tonnes of maize in the 2015/16 season, will return to full self-sufficiency this year.
Made said the government requires $61 million to rehabilitate grain storage infrastructure. Through its Grain Marketing Board, the government has capacity to store 4 million tonnes tonnes of maize, but the parastatal’s silos are in dire need of repair.
Undeterred by the limited success of the special maize production programme, Made announced that the government was launching a similar $140 million project for wheat.
The wheat programme, which is expected to start in April, will involve 70,000 hectares funded by private companies.
Commodities firm Sakunda Holdings, which put up close to $300 million for the maize programme, will fund 50,000 hectares of wheat, Made said. Private firms National Foods, Northern Farming and Staywell Trading have committed funds for 5,000 hectares each, with other unnamed funders taking up the rest.
Made said to date, 41,312 hectares of the 70,000 hectares had been offered to 1,457 farmers.
Wheat production has not been spared the decline in Zimbabwe’s farm output since the government began redistributing land from white farmers to previously landless blacks in the early 2000s.
Wheat output, which peaked at 325,000 tonnes in 1990 and 2001, now averages 20,000 tonnes — the equivalent of two weeks supply. Zimbabwe’s annual wheat requirements stand at 400,000 tonnes.
Apart from the upheavals on the farms, wheat production is expensive in Zimbabwe, compared to regional peers due to a variety of factors including high electricity and water tariffs as well as other costs such as fertilizers and seed, priced in a strong US dollar currency which the country adopted in 2009 to tame hyperinflation.
Made’s $140 million programme on 70,000 hectares assumes production costs at $2,000 per hectare. Given an average yield of three tonnes per hectare, the implied cost per tonne of nearly $700.
A tonne of wheat was quoted at just over $300 on www.grainsa.co.za on Thursday.