Harmony Agere and Carren Mushonga
Government will begin procuring inputs this week and distribute them to farmers by the end of the month to enable them to timeously prepare for the 2019-2020 summer cropping season, which experts believe will receive normal rains.
More than 150 meteorologists from across the region, who met for the 23rd Southern African Regional Climate Forum (SARCOF-23) in Angola last week, indicated in a communique on Friday that normal rains are expected over the three-month period to December.
However, while other regions will receive normal to above normal rains, Zimbabwe, western Angola (Namibe province), Namibia, southern South Africa, Eswatini and Madagascar will have normal to below normal rains in the January-March period next year.
Treasury has already set aside a $3,6 billion kitty for agriculture, through which $2,8 billion is reserved for Command Agriculture (maize and soyabeans), $780 million for the Presidential Input Support Scheme and $120 million for the Agriculture Input Guarantee Scheme.
Of the total allocations to the sector, input schemes will chew up $1,9 billion.
In order to wean the sector from rain-fed agriculture, particularly, in the wake of climate change, $178 million has been channelled to irrigation development.
Agriculture, Lands, Water and Climate Deputy Minister Vangelis Haritatos told The Sunday Mail that Government wants farmers to plant crops early.
“Preparations for the upcoming season have already begun and this year, we want farmers to plant early.
“As such, we are targeting to procure inputs for both Command Agriculture and Presidential Input Scheme by the beginning of September and hopefully start distribution by end of month,” said Deputy Minister Haritatos.
Command Agriculture – which has been extended to support “infant” farmers, whose capacity was affected by last year’s drought – is set to put 210 000 hectares under maize production and 30 000ha under soyabeans.
Government, however, insists that only farmers with a traceable track record of repaying loans and producing high yields will benefit.
The support schemes are specifically targeted to insulate farmers from high input prices being charged by suppliers.
“The allocation from Treasury was a good start, but we need more for us to succeed in our plans.
“These programmes are meant to cushion farmers from high prices being charged by suppliers,” said the Deputy Minister.
Farmers were already fretting over high input prices.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) director Mr Jeremiah Tevera recently raised fears farmers would reduce the hectarage under production.
“Programmes such as Command Agriculture are always a relief to farmers, but those who do not benefit still need to make their own plans. And as it stands, farmers are complaining that almost everything is expensive and might have to reduce hectarage,” he said.
High interest rates being charged by financial institutions are also squeezing farmers, he said.
A snap survey by The Sunday Mail shows that most shops are selling a 50kg bag of Ammonium Nitrate and Compound D for about $250 and $220, respectively, while a 10kg bag of maize seed is going for $109.
Following a severe drought, which rocked the country last season, Government is scaling up irrigation projects.
Already 80 centre pivots covering 3 200 hectares have been installed, while an additional 80 more centre pivots are presently being set up.
Rehabilitation of smallholder irrigation schemes is also progressing.
Ahead of Schedule
Cottco has already begun tapping the $213 million reserved for cotton inputs as farmers will begin receiving inputs under the Presidential Input Scheme soon.
The company’s managing director, Mr Pious Manamike, said planting preparations are already underway.
More than 200 000 hectares have been targeted for the cash crop.
“Cotton planting preparations are already underway. Registered farmers under the Presidential Input Scheme will start receiving inputs this September.
“Seed cotton deliveries for 2018-2019 season are still in progress as farmers are still delivering to their designated Cottco depots nationwide,” he said.
However, output is forecast to drop by 50 percent as a result of last year’s drought.
ZCFU Manicaland chairperson Dr Claudio Mtuwa said farmers were upbeat about the approaching summer cropping season.
“Last season was quite disappointing because of the drought, but we hope this season farmers will be encouraged to use drought-tolerant seeds.
“One challenge that we have been facing is that of shortage of machinery and we hope Government will also look into it as we are preparing for the season,” he said.