ZIMBABWE’S import bill is expected to maintain an upward trend amid indications that the country’s local grain output may not meet annual cereal demand due to natural factors.
Report by Bernard Mpofu
Giving his monthly state of the economy report on Monday, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said government would soon release a crop assessment report for the current season that will show the level of imports anticipated growth.
Statistics released by Treasury show that imports currently treble the amount of exports as the country’s trade deficit continues to widen.
As at January, imports, which stood at $690,9 million were outpacing exports, which generated $269 million, blighting any hope of easing the biting liquidity constraints on the domestic market.
Exports recorded during February declined to $254,7 million while imports decelerated to $606,6 million during the same month.
Imports in the first two months totalled just below $1,3 billion.
Mineral export was the largest contributor chipping in with 69,9% followed by tobacco at 13,2%.
“The late above normal rains received in January have resulted in soil leaching in many parts of the country,” Biti said.
“As a result, maize yields will probably be negatively impacted resulting in lower than anticipated crop yields during the 2012/13 season.
“In the next few weeks, we are going to receive the first crop assessment report by the ministry of Agriculture so we hope to provide finer details in our April budget odometer.”
The current season has also been affected by armyworm outbreaks in Mashonaland provinces, Manicaland, Midlands and Matabeleland North provinces.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, the country has to date imported 432 400 tonnes of maize to meet a cereal gap of 436 211 tonnes for the estimated national annual cereal consumption of two million tonnes.
Currently, at least 1,4 million people are receiving food assistance through government and humanitarian agencies.
Critics say the country, once regarded as the breadbasket of the region, was relegated to a basket case after the government embarked on a chaotic land reform programme, which resulted in the acquisition of arable land from white commercial farmers.
Statistics also show that traditionally, grain growing farmers have in recent years switched to the more lucrative tobacco farming.
Zanu PF, which spearheaded the exercise, attributes the declining output to underfunding of the agriculture sector.