ZIMBABWE Farmers Union (ZFU) officials say farmers’ potential to utilise the land has resulted in an increase in farmers growing wheat this year. Several factors over the past years have resulted in farmers shying away from growing wheat, forcing the country to resort to imports to cater for about 400 000 tonnes required for local consumption. However, despite fears of lack of electricity and water supply during the winter wheat growing season, some farmers have taken up the challenge to bridge the gap in supply and demand by taking advantage of Government and farmers’ unions initiatives to provide means for them to grow wheat. Agricultural stakeholders who include the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, farmers’ unions, banks, insurance companies, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA), Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), grain millers and suppliers recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which seeks to make available all necessary resources and support to farmers to help boost crop production. It is this MoU that will ensure that not only farmers, but everyone in the supply and demand chain gets what he or she requires. In an interview with The Patriot, Executive Director for ZFU Mr Paul Mr Zakariya said this year more farmers were willing to grow wheat because of their potential to utilise the land. “There has been an increase in the number of farmers growing wheat this year due to the stabilising economy and because farmers have realised the potential they have in utilising the land,” Mr Zakariya said. “While last year, we had targeted 1 000 hectares, we only managed to grow 600 hectares which is different from this year.” Mr Zakariya revealed that ZFU had this year targeted 10 000 hectares and has so far registered over 40 farmers vying for the crop this year. “Right now, we have about 45 applicants who will plant close to 2 700 hectares of wheat and when the deadline comes, we will not entertain anyone because a farmer loses an average of 50 kilogrammes of wheat per hectare if they miss the planting deadline,” he said. Wheat growers were required to have planted the crop by the first of this month in order to maximise yields. Many are therefore encouraged to finish planting by mid-May to avoid incurring losses. Mr Zakariya said the initiatives by Government and farmers’ unions like the ZFU to support farmers should not be allowed to go to waste. “We have made res o u r c e s a v a i l a b l e for farmers to engage in farming a c t i v i t i e s and there is no need for them not to take advantage of these,” said Mr Zacharia. “There are banks like Trust Bank and Royal Bank which have a thrust towards rural development and have negotiable interest rates of up to nine percent and farmers should use such banks. “These are unlike other banks which are not sensitive to the type of farmers we have today because they cannot borrow against the 99- year leases.” Mr Zakariya went on to commend efforts by all stakeholders to support farmers by pledging and committing to provide necessary resources to boost wheat production and reduce imports from the region. “The MoU that was signed by all agricultural stakeholders which binds ZESA, ZINWA and others will make sure that electricity, water, seeds and fertilisers as well as other resources are provided for farmers eager to grow the crop,” he said. The Government has this year provided approximately US$ 20 million worth of inputs for the season while ZFU has provided US$6 million worth of inputs for eligible farmers. “ZFU has made available US$6 million worth of basal and top dressing fertilisers and other inputs to qualifying farmers for this year’s wheat growing season,” he said. “It should be emphasised that these inputs are only for qualifying farmers and these are those who have functional irrigation systems on their farms, those who have proven experience in growing wheat and this will be reflected through the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) vouchers, good management skills and equipment to do land preparation and other activities on the farm.” Mr Zakariya lamented the fact that some farmers were still reluctant to engage in wheat production despite such initiatives and was quick to point out that intensive campaigns would be carried out to help farmers. “We will constantly help farmers to step out of the fear they have in growing wheat so that we can be able to boost wheat production and ensure food security in Zimbabwe,” he said.