Sugar shortage looms as drought bites

SUGARGeorge Maponga in Masvingo—
Zimbabwe faces a shortage of sugar as the drought has severely affected sugar cane production in the Lowveld. Two dams that supply water to the Lowveld have since been decommissioned due to low water levels. Water rationing has now been introduced for sugar cane farmers amid indications that the water remaining in the supply dams would not last until the start of sugar cane harvesting around May.

If significant rains do not fall in the next few months, as has been forecast by the Meteorological Services Department, most of the sugar cane crop would be declared a write-off.

The country consumes between 350 000 and 400 000 tonnes of sugar per year, but production would be drastically cut this year because of the drought. This means more imports of sugar would be required to cover the gap until the next sugar cane harvesting period starts around April next year.

Rationing of irrigation water has already been introduced at Mkwasine Estates owing to critically low water levels in Manjirenji Dam that supplies 4 000 hectares of cane plantations at the estates.

Out of the other major supply dams in the Lowveld, Lake Mutirikwi is at 23 percent full, while Bangala Dam in Masvingo South and Muzhwi Dam in Chivi North are almost empty due to poor rains.

While Bangala and Muzhwi dams have since been decommissioned and no longer supply water to irrigate sugar cane, drawing of irrigation water from Lake Mutirikwi would be stopped if its levels drop to less than 10 percent.

Sources in the Lowveld sugar industry said irrigation water supplies in Lake Mutirikwi would be stopped in June unless rains come. The sources said some of the water would be reserved for supplies to Masvingo City, which relies solely on the dam.

Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Farmers’ Development Association chairman Mr Admore Veterai said the prevailing drought would impinge on the sugar cane output. He said the situation could have been better if Government had completed the construction of the Tokwe-Mukosi Dam.

“The water supply situation in the Lowveld cane plantations is very dire and the future looks bleak unless rains start falling to replenish dams that are either empty or critically low so that we can have enough water to last us until the next season,’’ said Mr Veterai.

“Completion of Tokwe-Mukosi Dam becomes even more urgent, especially considering that the dam can easily augment supplies from the existing dams since it will be very easy to convey the water to irrigate cane fields in the Lowveld.”

There are also reports that Lowveld sugar producer Tongaat Hulett is planning to reduce by almost half its 29 000 hectares of cane plantation, as shortage of irrigation water gets worse.

“Our projections for sugar output this year have been revised to less than 400 000 tonnes because of shortage of water, as most supply dams are either empty or critically low,” said a Tongaat Hulett employee who refused to be named.

“The situation is even going to get worse next year unless we start receiving some rains in the catchment area of our major dams. Water rationing has already been introduced at Mkwasine Estates where most farmers are now getting water supplies for only two days per week because of critically low water levels in Manjirenji Dam.

“Our hope is that it rains very soon because supplies from Lake Mutirikwi will be halted in June if the situation does not improve.’’ Tongaat Hulett corporate and communications manager Ms Adelaide Chikunguru could not be reached for comment. The company’s agriculture planning director, Mr Farai Msikavanhu, refused to comment, citing company protocol.

“I am sorry I cannot speak to you about any issues to do with Tongaat Hulett because I am not allowed to speak to you without authorisation,’’ he said.

Last year, Zimbabwe produced over 480 000 tonnes of sugar on the back of increased output by indigenous new farmers following the implementation of the Sustainable Rural Communities Programme (Susco) by Tongaat Hulett and Cane Lands Trust to help resettled farmers increase yields.

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