By Farai Mabeza
AFTER the high of the 2016/2017 agriculture season, Zimbabwe is headed for average maize production in the next season, mainly because of limited availability and accessibility of inputs as foreign currency shortages persist, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) has said.
National maize production from the 2016/2017 cropping season was estimated at 2,16 million metric tonnes, 320 percent above the previous season, and 140 percent higher than the five-year average.
Total cereal (maize and small grains) production was estimated at 2,44 million metric tonnes. The official national total cereal requirement for the 2017/2018 consumption year is 1,57 million metric tonnes, though some independent sources put the requirements at between 1,8 million and two million metric tonnes.
Last season’s surplus maize figures came after one of the wettest seasons in decades, but FEWSNET said in its report for October that for the upcoming year, typical surplus-producing areas in the north would likely realise average production.
“Average to below-average production is expected in the traditional deficit areas in the south, west and extreme northern parts of the country,” FEWSNET said.
Shortages of crop inputs (mainly fertilisers and chemicals) are likely to continue during the 2017/2018 cropping season due to national foreign currency shortages.
“However, the government has reportedly put in place measures to facilitate fertiliser imports, including removal of import duties. Maize seed companies have assured farmers of adequate seed for the coming cropping season.
“Though small grain seed is expected to remain in short supply on the markets, farmers are expected to mainly use retained seed,” FEWSNET said.
Poor households will face challenges accessing inputs on the markets given low incomes and high costs. The government plans to provide crop inputs (seed and fertilisers) to approximately 1,8 million small holder farming households under the Presidential Well Wishers Crop Input Scheme.
Last season, crop inputs were provided to only 800 000 households. The government has also reported plans to support farmers targeted during the second year of the Command Agriculture Programme.
About 400 000 cotton farmers are set to benefit from crop input assistance by the government this cropping season. Input distribution was set to start ahead of the onset of rainfall season in October, but one of the main challenges stalking most government programmes year after year has been late distribution of any support inputs.
The above-average national maize and other crop harvests from last season improved food availability and access across the country.