Govt backs winter wheat season with water tariff reduction

Source: The Herald – Breaking news.

Govt backs winter wheat season with water tariff reduction 
Dr Anxious Masuka

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Senior Reporter

THE Government has come up with comprehensive strategies to ensure a successful winter wheat season, among them the 31 percent reduction in water charges for irrigation farmers, which will be backdated to the time when the crop was planted.

The tariff reduction, which is yet to be gazetted, is part of a consolidated effort to cushion farmers from the high cost of wheat production, mainly driven by water and electricity charges.

Speaking after the Cabinet meeting yesterday, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Dr Jenfan Muswere said this was part of a robust plan for winter cereals production this year.

The plan, designed to address the El Niño drought concerns, prioritises wheat-based food security for the upcoming year and outlines a four-pronged approach, encompassing existing grain stocks, the anticipated inadequate summer harvest, imports and the crucial winter cereal production programme.

“Ministries of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development and of Energy and Power Development have constituted an agriculture energy task force to coordinate strategies to ensure adequate electricity provision.

“In the same vein, the banks and contractors are being encouraged to treat electricity as an input and prepay part of the estimated bill on behalf of the farmer as they do for seed and fertiliser. Secondly, in terms of the supply of water, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority will implement seasonal billing.

“The 31 percent tariff reduction is yet to be gazetted but will be backdated in order not to prejudice farmers. Farmers on stop order facilities will not be charged monthly interest on overdue bills as was the case before. The Zimbabwe National Water Authority will only start charging interest after farmers on stop order agreements have been paid,” said Dr Muswere.

Wheat farmer clusters had been submitted to Zesa and Zinwa to ensure electricity and water supplies were ring-fenced.

The Government had set an ambitious target of 120 000 hectares for wheat planting, with a projected yield of 5,2 tonnes per hectare, translating to a total production of 624 000 tonnes. That goal was bolstered by the early start of planting in some areas, with contractors envisaging that the targets would be exceeded.

Minister Muswere said targets for other cereals this winter had also been set.

“The targeted area for planting barley is 7 000 hectares, with an estimated yield of 6 tonnes per hectare and estimated production of 42 000 tonnes. The targeted area for maize and sorghum is 3 250 hectares, with an estimated yield of three tonnes per hectare and an estimated production of 9 750 tonnes.

“The bulk of the winter maize and sorghum will be produced in regions 4 and 5, while potatoes will be planted in winter in warmer areas and during August on the Highveld. Surveillance for quelea roosting sites is ongoing. A command centre will be established to coordinate surveillance and control of quelea, while provincial command and control centres will be set up,” he said.

Responding to questions on the preparedness for the winter season about availability of inputs, Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Dr Anxious Masuka said fertiliser was among the nine enablers of production and productivity.

“We have listed nine enablers for wheat production. On top of that list is power, and availability of water and we have also highlighted fertiliser availability and affordability. As of yesterday, 76 000 tonnes of fertiliser were available, which is 64 percent of the required fertiliser. We are augmenting the local supply and manufacture with imports, and we are confident that by the 30th of this month, we should have all the inputs so that when we have this major planting starting on May 1, we will have all the inputs, inclusive of fertiliser available,” he said.