Food shortages could be averted
Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
Reports of yet another drought during the 2015-16 season in the SADC region made sad news for Zimbabwe.
Memories of past food shortages haunt many Zimbabweans.
The El Nino-induced erratic rainfall patterns contributed to the anxiety.
Drought is equal to food shortages.
Many farmers could have given up on producing on their land due to the forecast erratic rainfalls.
However, not all seems to be lost and the late rains that pounded Zimbabwe was a welcome development for some.
The late rains helped farmers salvage their yields ahead of the dry season.
The late planted or irrigated maize during the 2015 /16 agricultural season has raised hope that food shortages on a massive scale could be averted.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made told Parliament recently that while maize harvesting was in progress, imports would still continue.
Zimbabwe needs at 2,2 million tonnes of maize for both human and livestock consumption.
The country also needs about 1,3 million tonnes of maize from February until the end of the year.
About 526 802 tonnes of maize have been imported from Russia, Ukraine and Zambia to avert food shortages.
“The estimated imports still stand at the same levels as announced. So, all the activities relating to maize coming into the country are continuing. That is one major point,” he said.
Minister Made said the levels of deliveries to the Grain Marketing Board were substantial to the point that Zimbabwe would be able to use what is being harvested to mitigate drought in certain parts of the country.
“To date already, the Grain Marketing Board has taken delivery of 16 000 metric tonnes in the current season.
“I have also directed the Grain Marketing Board to take the maize at 13,5 percent moisture content where we normally take the grain at 12,5 percent moisture content.”
Minister Made said Government had made the provisions to facilitate early deliveries of maize to the Grain Marketing Board.
“In terms of payment for the maize delivered, I am happy to also indicate to the House that the farmers are being paid as they deliver their grain to the Grain Marketing Board.
“To this effect, already Treasury has released $3,5 million plus $1 million, making a total of current releases to the Grain Marketing Board to $4.5 million.
“The farmers are being paid as directed. This is also to enable the farmers who are harvesting maize to be able to start the winter preparation.”
Government has already paid over $7,2 million owed to farmers for maize delivered to GMB amid hope for better deliveries.
Government has pegged the maize price at $390 per tonne against the private buyers’ price of $360.
Meanwhile, farmers organisations said the el Nino-induced drought effects were lessened by the late rains.
They, however, said the country was still in the red as far as food shortages are concerned.
There were also calls for Government to get the harvested maize into the Strategic Grain Reserve.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union executive director Mr Paul Zacharia said while the late rains salvaged the maize crop in most parts of the Mashonaland region, there was still need to boost the reserves.
“The late rains improved the crops in Mashonaland East, West and Central and the two weeks it rained made a significant improvement to the late planted crop.
“Those who planted between December 20 and January 15 this year saw their yields increasing by 60 percent as the late rains came at the right time to change farmers’ fortunes.”
He, however, called for a change of focus on the farmers who can produce.
“We need to have a deliberate shift and finance farmers who have proved that they can produce for the country’s strategic reserve.
“There is no need to continue funding all farmers but take an initiative that would promote more maize production for our reserves,” he said.
Mr Zacharia acknowledged the contributions made by urban agriculture in lessening the food shortages.
“There is, however, need to look at the city by-laws for sustainable urban agriculture. Cities have to identify suitable areas for these activities.
“The environment is very critical hence the need to balance it with agricultural production to avoid a situation where we have a boom in agricultural production for two seasons but destroy the environment in the same breadth,” he said.
Commercial Farmers Union deputy director Mr Marc Wilson weighed in noting the importance of the late rains.
“As you are aware the rains were erratic and dry land crops planted late into the season benefited from the rains,” he said.
Mr Wilson said Zimbabwe still needs to import to cover the deficit.
“There is need for Government to ensure smooth flow of grain into the country. Some farmers have done exceptionally well and we also need to ensure that there is a good market and price.
“Government should also ensure that it buys from the local farmers before looking at the imports and this can be achieved through competitive maize prices,” he said.
About 91 327 tonnes are available in the Strategic Grain Reserve and 63 000 tonnes has already been distributed under the drought mitigation programme.
The most drought-hit areas are Matabeleland South, Midlands, Masvingo and southern Manicaland.
According to Government’s economic blueprint, ZimAsset under the Food Security and Nutrition Cluster, Zimbabwe should be a self-sufficient and food surplus economy and re-emerging as the “bread basket of Southern-Africa”.
The cluster seeks to ultimately build a prosperous, diverse and competitive food security and nutrition sector that contributes significantly to national development through the provision of an enabling environment for sustainable economic empowerment and social transformation.
The cluster programmes are aligned to and informed by the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), Draft Comprehensive Agriculture Policy Framework (2012-2032), the Food and Nutrition Security Policy, the Zimbabwe Agriculture Investment Plan (2013-2017), SADC and COMESA Food and NutritionFrameworks.