Fertiliser shortages loom: Biti

HARARE - Finance minister Tendai Biti says Zimbabwe is faced with a 400 000 tonnes fertiliser shortage for the coming farming season.

The input shortages are sparking fears of another poor harvest in a country that has experienced acute food shortages over the past decade.

Biti yesterday told journalists after meeting with fertiliser companies that government is making frantic efforts to ensure that there is adequate fertiliser for the 2013 farming season.

“Local fertiliser companies say they have with them 300 000 metric tonnes and we are faced with a 400 000 metric tonnes shortage, both Ammonium and Compound D,” he said.

The looming shortage is expected to push input prices up and further cripple farmers, many of whom have still not been paid for crops delivered to the Grain Marketing Board.

Fertiliser companies have in the past argued that they have not been able to produce the required tonnage as government is yet to pay them for fertiliser they previously supplied under various input support schemes.

Government is believed to owe fertiliser companies more than $50 million. On the other hand, farmer organisations are worried that the fertiliser prices will shoot up within the coming weeks as unscrupulous merchants seek to take advantage of the situation.

“We are going to liquidate $10 million by end of this week to fertiliser companies and the reaming $40 million will also be settled in due course.

“Although there has been some movement in fertiliser prices with a 50kg bag of compound D now retailing at $40 compared to the $28 last year, fertiliser companies have agreed to sell it at $31.”

Biti said the Food and Agriculture Organisation has also pledged to unveil $80 million to help farmers get inputs for the coming farming season.

Despite assurances from seed producers that there is enough seed for the forthcoming 2012-2013 agricultural season, agriculture experts say another poor farming season would have devastating effects on the country which has been hoping for better fortunes after years of poor harvests.

Zimbabwe’s poor farming seasons since the turn of the millennium have been largely blamed on recurrent droughts and poor policies by President Robert Mugabe’s administration which dragged the country into endless food shortages since the turn of the millennium following the controversial farm seizure programme.

The chaotic and often violent land reforms which started in 2000 displaced established white commercial farmers and replaced them with inadequately-funded black farmers resulting in a dramatic fall in food production.

Last month local commercial farmers urged the government to start importing ammonium nitrate (AN) fertiliser to meet the 2012-2013 farming season requirements.

Charles Taffs, the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) president said this is because the local fertiliser industry “is in a precarious situation” and will not be able to meet the national demand.

Experts indicate that the local industry currently had 25 000 tonnes of AN in stock against 150 000 tonnes required for the farming season.

“The local fertiliser industry is in a precarious position. Procuring working capital and a substantial level of unpaid debts have prevented manufacturers from importing potash and other required ingredients.

“The production capacity of the industry will not be able to meet the combined national requirements for growing maize of 370 000 tonnes for both Compound “D” and Ammonium Nitrate by December.

“Thus there will be a need to import substantial quantities of fertilisers to make up shortfalls. Farmers will have to bear the higher costs of imported fertilisers,” Taffs said.

The Meteorological Services Department has predicted that the country will receive normal to below normal rainfall during the 2012/2013 farming season. - John Kachembere

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