Tongaat ramps up winter maize

From George Maponga in Masvingo

Sugar producer Tongaat Huletts Zimbabwe has pledged to continue seed maize production at its estates in Chiredzi and Mwenezi with the firm also appealing for assistance to procure equipment for irrigating winter maize in the Lowveld, which straddles over 4 000 hectares.

This comes as Tongaat’s stock continues to rise in the nation’s food security matrix with the firm diversifying into production of both seed maize and winter maize to help cut the country’s food import bill.

The company’s irrigated hectarage has grown exponentially following the massive expansion of the winter maize project this year.

Besides winter maize, Tongaat owns irrigated cane plantations in Chiredzi, Triangle and Mkwasine that cover over 20 000ha.

Tongaat ventured into maize seed production in a partnership with SeedCo in response to Government’s call for the private sector to help engender food security in the wake of recurrent droughts blamed on climate change.

About 468ha were early this year put under maize seed at Mwenezana estates under the Tongaat/SeedCo partnership with harvesting having already been completed, laying a solid foundation for the expansion of winter maize production.

The sugar producer has since resolved to massively expand the winter maize hectarage while also continuing with seed maize production.

This comes as Tongaat has also undertaken to make sure every piece of irrigable land under its ambit in Chiredzi and Mwenezi is put under winter maize to help Zimbabwe stave off prevailing food shortages. Managing Director Mr Aiden Mhere yesterday disclosed that both maize seed and winter maize projects would continue.

According to Mr Mhere his firm remained committed to working with Government to mitigate effects of climate change-induced food shortages.

“The maize seed project is an ongoing thing and we are committed to continue our partnership with SeedCo so that the nation has enough seed with our overall objective being to help the nation achieve food security,” said Mr Mhere.

“We are not going to plant seed on the same land where we harvested the previous seed, we will identify another area to grow the seed and that is in our plans. Our experts in that area will look at modalities like when best to plant that seed and other issues but we remain committed to produce more seed.”

The Tongaat managing director said his company wanted Government to assist with irrigation equipment to support the winter maize initiative.

Tongaat hoped to recover its costs from the projects.

“We have already approached Government for help so that we can lease equipment such as pumps and centre pivots for irrigating winter maize because we are continuing with planting but we cannot afford to recover our costs if we are to buy the irrigation equipment, we could be assisted to lease the equipment for a limited time then we pay,” said Mr Mhere.

He said nearly 2 000ha of land cleared for sugar cane production at Kilimanjaro in Chiredzi had been put under winter maize.

In Mwenezana over 1 000ha have also been put under the staple crop with Tongaat reducing its sugar cane hectarage to give priority to maize production.

“At Mwenezana we have cut down our cane hectarage to about 1 000ha and we have committed the rest of the land to winter maize and the land that we put under winter maize across the Lowveld needs irrigation equipment and we are only looking at helping the nation achieve food security and also at least to recover our costs,” said Mr Mhere.

The reduction in sugar cane hectarage at Mwenezana to pave way for winter maize would be offset by cane from Greenfuel operations in Chisumbanje.

Tongaat is one of the few local companies that is closely working with Government to mitigate effects of successive droughts that have spawned debilitating food shortages.

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