via Treat farming as business – DailyNews Live 20 August 2014 by Cathy Buckle
HARARE – Every year, at about this time when temperatures are going up, pods are cracking and new leaves are appearing on the deciduous trees, we start wondering about the winter wheat crop.
How big is it, has it matured yet, is it safe from the sweeping maze of uncontrolled fires and have we grown enough for our daily bread requirements?
This year, none of the answers are good.
Growing our own food has fallen so low on the national priority list that we really must hang our heads in shame.
It’s not that long ago that we were known as the breadbasket of Africa. Despite land being seized from 5 000 white farmers and given to 200 000 black farmers, we have failed dismally.
Apparently, we’ve just grown the same size wheat crop as we produced in 1966. Nearly half a Century ago, in 1966, Zimbabwe produced 10 tonnes of wheat. That amount increased fairly steadily to peak at 325 000 tonnes in 2001.
According to the latest edition of The Africa Report only 6 000 hectares of land were planted to wheat this winter. It’s a generous estimate as local statistics put the planting closer to 3 000 hectares but either way it’s a far, far cry from the 65 000 hectares we used to plant just 13 years ago.
From this year’s hectarage planted to wheat, farmers are expecting a yield of 10 000 tonnes, the lowest in 48 years; in fact the lowest the country has ever recorded.
Millers say we currently consume more than a million loaves of bread a day. It’s not a lot considering our population of 14 million people but millers still need 25 000 tonnes of wheat every month to meet national demand.
If predictions for the 2014 harvest being only 10 000 tonnes are accurate then we’ve grown enough wheat for just over a week. The rest will all have to be imported.
Experts say that Zimbabwe will have to import around 440 000 tonnes of wheat in order to cover the shortfall and satisfy our requirements between the 2014 and 2015 harvests.
With wheat costing $500 a tonne to import, our agricultural failings in respect to wheat alone are going to cost the government $220 million.
There is a veritable mountain of excuses about our farmers’ inability or unwillingness to produce enough wheat to meet the country’s needs including erratic electricity supplies; inability to irrigate, low producer prices and high input costs.
The tragedy about the dismal failure of this year’s winter wheat crop is that we knew it was coming, the experts were ringing alarms bells well in advance but no one was listening.
One of the warnings not on the list of excuses came in a June press report.
The chairperson of the Grain Millers’ Association of Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa Musarara, explained one problem which receives very little attention.
Ironically, it is free inputs given out because it is politically expedient; guaranteeing votes in the ballot box but not bread on the table.
Musarara said: “Where a farmer wilfully and intentionally diverts inputs worth $30 000, he is only liable to a fine of $100 or a prison sentence for a period not more than three months, but one will be imprisoned for nine years for stealing the same farmer’s beast worth $300.”
Just as free farms haven’t produced food, neither have free inputs.
Farming is a business and until it is treated as such we will have to keep importing food.
How much longer will it be before agriculture and production are put back at the top of the national priority list?