Zim to focus on small grains — ZFU

BULAWAYO - Zimbabwe is seriously considering the production of small grains in a bid to mitigate against drought that ravaged the staple maize crop in the past cropping season, the Zimbabwe farmers Union (ZFU) has said.

The farmers’ body attributed perennial droughts to climate change, which the country has not fully adapted to. ZFU president Silas Hungwe said it was high time small grains were given the attention they deserved if the country was to boost the effects of drought in the forthcoming cropping season.

“The issues pertaining to diversification into small grains that seem to have been neglected on the national agricultural agenda cannot be overemphasised especially considering the issues of climate change and variability. We have realised that it is important to seek and promote rigorously alternatives to mitigate negative effects of food production,” he said.

Hungwe said the production of small grains, which are drought resistant, had gone down over the years owing to a number of factors that include low producer prices compared with maize and challenges in processing them into edible  form.

“The market price for these crops plays an important role in neglecting the production of the crops on a large-scale,” he added.

The ZFU president said farmers were facing a greater challenge of feeding the nation and called for concerted efforts in the agriculture industry towards achieving that goal.

He added that timely availing of inputs could even make the next cropping season better than the previous one.

According to a recent annual crop assessment carried out by the United Nations and the government the country harvested 1,077 million tonnes of cereals in the 2011/12 season, down by one-third from the previous season and the lowest since the formation of the inclusive government in 2009.

The World Food Programme (WFP) in July warned that the number of people requiring food aid in the country would rise by 60 percent this year to 1,6 million.

WFP added that nearly one in five rural people in Zimbabwe will need food aid during the peak of next year’s “hunger season”, which runs from January to March when new crops would not have been harvested.

Finance minister Tendai Biti, in his Mid-Term Fiscal Policy Statement said agriculture production for the 2011/2012 season had fallen by 5,8 percent, leaving a grain deficit of 445 000 tonnes, to be partly met through imports by the private sector.

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