Winter wheat behind schedule

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GOVERNMENT must quickly avert a potential crisis emanating from underfunding, lack of inputs and intermittent power supply by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority so that the country’s winter wheat cropping season is a success, an official has said. In an interview with The Patriot in Headlands last week, Agricultural and Rural Development Authority chairperson Basil Nyabadza said the country was already behind schedule as the season was supposed to start on May 1 this year. He said the serious liquidity crunch currently besetting the country was a serious threat to wheat production and warned that the country may fail to meet its target if these challenges were not addressed urgently. Government has set aside US$10 million for winter wheat production this season and analysts have warned that the money is not enough to cover farmers’ requirements countrywide. The development came after a series of negotiations between Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made and Finance Minister Tendai Biti. Farmers require US$45 million to produce 50 000 tonnes of wheat, small fraction of the close to 450 000 tonnes the country consumes annually. Nyabadza said proper planning by the Government was critical in ensuring consistent production of wheat in the country and vital for the nation to meet its targets. “We are almost two weeks into the winter wheat season and something needs to be done to address the issues affecting farmers,” he said. “Right now some farmers have no money to buy inputs and equipment and to add on, ZESA has actually increased load-shedding so how then do they realise maximum productivity on the farms given these challenges? “What needs to be done right now is for the Government to quickly move in and avert a potential crisis so that the people of this country enjoy home-grown products and develop their country.” At peak production, local farmers produced about 120 000 tonnes with the rest being imported. Last year, the country produced far less than was normal in the heydays of wheat farming. While accurate figures are not available, estimates are that wheat production in 2010 stood at around 36 000 tonnes. To produce four tonnes of wheat per hectare this year, a farmer requires about US$1 200. The Bankers’ Association of Zimbabwe has said it has no facility for wheat production, but advised wheat growers to visit their individual banks for loans. Local financial institutions offer short-term loans and require collateral, which many growers say they do not have. This has forced some to switch from wheat to barley, which is grown under contract while others are opting for tobacco which they say has higher returns despite the hassles experienced by farmers this selling season.

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