Govt interventions boost maize yields

Darlington Musarurwa Deputy News Editor
Government interventions in agriculture through the Presidential Input Support Scheme and Command Agriculture managed to increase maize yields by 200 percent from 0,4 tonnes per hectare to 1,2 tonnes per hectare this year, a local report reveals.

The Zimbabwe National Competitiveness Report (ZNCR) 2017 — the third such annual report, which was produced under the auspices of the National Economic Consultative Forum (NECF), a local think tank — says the local agricultural industry remains largely uncompetitive despite the achievement.

Experts believe that the country can actually increase the yield to six tonnes per hectare.

In the SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) region, maize yields average two tonnes per hectare.

In Zambia and South Africa, for example, the average yield stands at 2,8 tonnes per hectare and 4,5 tonnes per hectare, respectively.

The latest competitiveness report notes that not only did yields improve this year, but production also doubled as well, making it possible for the country to export excess grain.

“Zimbabwe last exported maize in 1998/1999 when national production was slightly above 1,5 million tonnes,” reads the report. “National production for 2017 exceeded two million tonnes and this is more than the domestic maize consumption requirements.

“The country has, therefore, the potential to export maize in 2017. However, the whole of SADC region received good rains in the 2016/2017 season.”

Government has been increasing resource allocations to agriculture to improve food security and provide raw materials to industry.

While the African Union’s 2003 Maputo Declaration recommends that 10 percent of budget allocations should go towards agriculture, last year Zimbabwe managed 7,1 percent ($292 million).

This year, Government has reserved about $500 million for the 2017/2018 summer cropping season.

In a speech after taking the oath of office on November 24, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the country’s economic policy will be predicated on agriculture.

Statistics show that the sector contributes 12,5 percent to economic output and provides jobs to 75 percent of the population.

Worryingly, this year’s ZNCR, which focuses on agriculture, says the sector remains uncompetitive.

“Major constraints affecting agriculture include limited access to market information, unreliable supply of affordable inputs, lack of agricultural financing, high transport costs due to inadequate road infrastructure and vulnerability to weather-related shocks,” reads the report.

The assessment was based on the World Bank’s Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) indicators such as seed, fertiliser, machinery, finance, markets, transport, water and ICT.

It also collects data on laws and regulations that impact the business environment of agriculture.

Out of the 62 countries that were considered in the survey, Zimbabwe performed relatively better in terms of seed varieties, where it was ranked 15th.

“Zimbabwe is among the countries with regulatory good practices for seed in plant breeding,” reads the report.

“However, there is need for improvement in the area of variety registration, following best practices by countries such as South Korea and Thailand, where variety registration has been made efficient and affordable.”

It was observed that there continues to be low seed sales due to limited finance, and farmers rely mostly on retained seed rather than certified seed.

In terms of machinery, the country scored 20 (out of 62); followed by fertiliser and transport, both at 29; water 31; markets 42; finance 49; and ICT 52.

In particular, local fertiliser prices are considered to be relatively high compared to the region.

For example, Compound D fertiliser is considered 25 percent more expensive than in Zambia when calculated per unit of nitrogen basis.

But the country is ranked third after South Africa and Kenya in terms of the value of fresh food exports.

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