Dire crop situation calls for contingent measures

HARARE - The crop situation in most parts of the country is not looking good because the heavens have not been generous with the rains. Farming experts warned this week that some of the crops could be written off if the heavens do not open up this week.

Zimbabwe is an agro-based economy, whose fortunes are intricately linked to how well it does in the field of agriculture.

A good agricultural season guarantees a steady supply of about 70 percent of the raw materials that go into the manufacturing sector. It also reduces pressure on the import bill and ensures food security for the country’s 14 million people.

In view of the optimism stemming from the fall of former president Robert Mugabe’s autocratic regime and the dawn of a new era under his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the last thing Zimbabweans were expecting is a poor agricultural season.

Invigorated by the Command Agriculture initiative and reports from the Meteorological Services Department predicting normal to above normal rainfall, farmers had gone all out to prepare for the 2017/18 agricultural season to maintain the momentum gained in the previous farming season.

Their optimism, which saw the hectarage being increased, had also been buoyed by the bumper harvest achieved in the 2016/17 season when the country produced more than its annual consumption of 2,1 million metric tonnes of the staple grain.

Sadly, that optimism is dying.

The Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union notes that rainfall distribution in the first half of the season has been very poor and most crops are either at the stage of permanent wilting and would be a write-off if the rains do not fall this week or they could recover but with depleted yields. The Zimbabwe Farmers Union and other farmer organisations have made similar observations.

Government has, however, urged citizens not to panic saying the country has 500 000 tonnes of maize in its strategic grain reserve, enough to sustain the country up to next year.

Our experience with the Zanu PF government is that in its bid to calm nerves, it ends up downplaying the situation and believing its own lies. We do not think there is any need for political grandstanding with food.

Now that the rains are not forthcoming, the country must put in place contingent measures to guarantee food supplies up to April 2019.

Those with water bodies capable of supporting irrigation must not delay watering their crops for fear of running up huge electricity bills. At the end of the day, the future belongs to those who invest in irrigation infrastructure to mitigate the effects of climate change.

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