Winter wheat crop preparations lag

ZIMBABWE could face another bleak winter wheat cropping season after it emerged that the government is still making frantic efforts to raise $80 million to grow the cereal, barely two weeks before plantation of the early crop begins.

Report by Bernard Mpofu

The development comes at a time when Treasury has also undertaken to inject $1 million for the setting up of the much-delayed Commodity Exchange, an open market for the country’s agricultural
produce, two years after the project was first mooted.

Presenting the first quarter state of the economy report on Monday, Finance minister Tendai Biti said plans were underway to source funds for the winter wheat at a time when State coffers have dried up owing to other commitments such as a pending election, grain importation and a huge public service wage bill.

“The 2013 winter wheat production programme has financial requirements amounting to $80 million. Various financing options are being considered and pursued to ensure a successful wheat programme,” Biti said, although he did not disclose when the funds would be availed.

About 40 000 hectares of land are expected to be put under wheat production this season. The government says it will contribute $30 million of the amount required to produce a 160 000 metric tonnes of wheat, but time is running out before the cut off date for planting the last variety of the crop.

Critics blame the chaotic land reform programme implemented more than a decade ago for relegating Zimbabwe, once
the bread basket of the region, into basket case.

Meanwhile, plans to breathe life into the dormant exchange were announced nearly a decade after the project was abandoned when the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) was given monopoly to buy wheat and maize. Delays in paying farmers for maize deliveries made to GMB has in turn fuelled side marketing, prompting the government to re-establish an open market.

Experts say since the commencement of grain marketing season early this month, the cash-strapped government has no capacity to buy the cereal.

“Clearly, given the parlous state of finances, an attempt to use the GMB as the buyer of last resort will create problems for farmers,” Biti said.

“Treasury anticipated this in 2012 when it pushed for the establishment of the Commodity Exchange to allow farmers to sell their crop at a competitive price and receive payment immediately. In this regard, Treasury will avail $1 million to the concerned ministries for the setting up and operationalisation of the Commodity Exchange as a matter of urgency.”

Turning to food security, official figures show that the country has to date imported 432 400 tonnes of maize to meet the cereal gap of 436 211 tonnes. A total of 1,4 million people, according to Biti, are currently receiving assistance through the government and humanitarian agencies.

“Currently, the government is negotiating with the Zambian government for the importation of 150 000 tonnes of maize valued at $60-$70 million, as part of the Grain Importation Programme,” Biti said.

“The grain importation programme will be funded by both government and private sector players, in view of the limited capacity of the fiscus.”

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4 Comments

  1. Haha… of course the government has no plan.. the only plan they have come up with is to kick the farmers off the land and replace them with subsistence farmers who have no access to implements, seed, no nothing about growing large amounts of crops and have the audacity to call themselves farmers. If this country was a meritocracy then none of these clowns would have jobs. I laugh at the situation – it is your own making and yet there is still surprise that it does not work. Go see a witchdoctor, maybe the implements will fall out of the sky???

  2. The minister has prescribed the correct medicine here. Agricultural funding is not limited to conventional bank lending. It is possible and desirable to mobilize resources from capital markets. The commodities exchange is therefore greatly anticipated, as it will revolutionize the grain markets. If Government continues to dilly-dally on this one, farmers will continue to desert cereal production in favour of other crops, whose marketing is liberal and thus lucrative. Though the seed capital has been availed by treasury I’m not happy if there are no time lines as to when the exchange will open its doors.

    What boggles one’s mind is; if the country can mobilize funding to import 432,400 tonnes of maize, how come the same cannot pay local farmers to increase productivity? It therefore means that there are serious structural defects and there is no political will to solve the problems.

    So far, we have had positive signals from Agriculture ministry that private millers will be roped in to finance this year’s winter wheat production. I hope that the policy will be implemented. What about ZESA, do we have a firm commitment from the power utility that this time around enough power would be availed at the critical stage of wheat production?

    What about the SMEs exchange? How far are we in operationalizing that exchange? So as a country we need to be pragmatic and deft in quickly bringing ideas into functional outcomes and desist from this habit of waiting for 2 FULL YEARS to implement policies which would have been approved at cabinet level. Let’s learn by doing, and not to procrastinate!!!!

  3. Hatidi wheat yaJUNE pliz. Give us a break

  4. Neutral Pakati

    This article has a stale taste to it. It seems it has appeared every year since the farm invasions, with a word or two altered here & there. Ivhu kuvanhu- my foot.

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