Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

The changing story on farming season readiness

Posted by CM on December 12, 2007

A few weeks after it began, the rain season looks promising this year. In the last few months there has also been a lot of noise from various officials to suggest that this year the government was taking preparation for the farming season much more seriously than in the last several embarrassing years. We have been boastfully promised “the mother of all farming seasons.”

Below is a Herald report from early in the rain season. I reproduce it here in full for the record (the link to it, http://www.herald.co.zw/inside.aspx?sectid=26073&cat=1, now leads to a blank Herald page) and so that during and after the farming season, we can examine the situation and track what went right or wrong.

Government has secured enough seed, fertilizer, farming implements and fuel in anticipation of a successful 2007/08 farming season, says the Minister of Agriculture, Cde Rugare Gumbo.

Speaking at a Press briefing in Harare yesterday on Zimbabwe’s agricultural preparedness for the forthcoming season, dubbed “The Mother of All Farming Seasons,” Cde Gumbo said everything was in place.

“But we really want to stress that emphasis is on yields and not hectarage. As the situation stands at present, most of our people are ready for the summer season. There is much enthusiasm,” the minister said.

Cde Gumbo said the country has targeted to put at least 2 million hectares under maize, 400 000ha under small grains (sorghum and millet), 600 000ha under tobacco, 120 000ha under soyabeans, 200 000ha under groundnuts, 400 000ha under cotton and 56 000ha under sugarcane.

“These are the targets we want to achieve. The fact that we have indicated these figures does not mean we will stop,” he said.

Cde Gumbo said the targets along with the anticipated good rains projected by weather forecasts should contribute to the success of the farming season. “We are in a way comforted by the weather forecast that we may have normal to above normal rainfall this season and we want to ensure that we have a bumper harvest,” Cde Gumbo said.

Acknowledging the existence of other challenges such as erratic electricity supplies, his ministry had engaged the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to mitigate the problems.

“In terms of tobacco everything is okay, the only challenge is irrigation and power outages. We have enough seed for soyabeans, cotton, and sugar cane,” he said.

There was a small deficit of fertilizer particularly compound D, but the central bank was making frantic efforts to ensure that farmers received adequate supplies.

Cde Gumbo told journalists that Operation Maguta/Inala, spearheaded by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, had already started supplying communal and A1 farmers with fertilizers and seed. “We are pleased with the performance of the operation in terms of providing inputs to rural areas,” he said.

He commended Government for phase two of the Farm Mechanisation Programme, which he said would go a long way in enhancing production among communal farmers who contribute at least 85 percent of the national maize output.

Under phase two, Government distributed more than 50 000 animal-drawn implements including harrows, ploughs, cultivators and discs. In addition, Government distributed more than 1 200 tractors and combine harvesters to farmers as it intensifies its efforts to enhance agricultural production.

Massive production of all agricultural products, Cde Gumbo added, was the best weapon against food shortages and inflation. “The ministry’s thrust for the 2007-2008 farming season is massive production of all products, be it beef, chicken, pork as this is the only way we can stop food shortages.”

“If we go into farming in a massive way we are sure inflation will go down, prices will also go down and retain our status as Southern Africa’s breadbasket,” Cde Gumbo said.

RBZ Governor Dr Gideon Gono described the forthcoming agricultural season as the solution to all Zimbabwe’s challenges. “This farming season is going to be the mother of all farming seasons. A mother symbolises stability, care and everything good about life. So we are looking forward to the coming season we have termed ‘The Mother of All Farming Seasons’,” Dr Gono said.

He said at least 50 000 tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer was available while 1 440 tonnes was with the GMB. “I can report that of Compound D we have 30 000 tonnes of Amonium Nitrate and 1 440 tonnes is with the GMB while 396 000 tonnes is with our suppliers,” he said. He said 17 000 tonnes was expected to be delivered before November.

Dr Gono said 12 964 tonnes of LAN fertilizer was also with the GMB while another 2 000 tonnes was in transit from an unnamed supplier. “Twenty-five thousand tonnes of LAN fertilizer is expected to be delivered between October and January while 10 000 more will be delivered from February onwards,” he said.

Dr Gono said a further 50 000 tonnes of Compound C for tobacco was in stock at the GMB while 35 000 tonnes had already been released to farmers.

A further 7 000 tonnes was expected to be delivered in three weeks’ time.

Although the country had adequate land, adequate inputs and the technical know-how, he said the tools of the trade were equally important for the nation to achieve greater success.

Dr Gono said Government had launched the mechanisation programme to equip the farmers with the necessary implements. “On June 11 we unveiled the launch of the mechanisation programme with 925 state-of-the-art tractors being distributed. This is a programme that has never been done in the history of the country and we mostly paid cash for the tractors with money from our own resources,” Dr Gono said.

“. . . prophets of doom thought it was propaganda. Last week we saw 1 200 tractors and over 50 000 animal driven implements of all kinds being distributed,’’ he said.

He said even the so-called industrialised countries had never distributed such a significant number of implements in one year.

“The programme goes beyond 2007 and we want to see all farmers getting their set of all the farming implements,” he added.

Dr Gono also said timely availability of inputs to farmers was critical, adding that 50 000 tonnes of maize seed was already secured. He said the central bank was going to support the local industry with foreign currency to play its part in meeting the national requirements.

He said power outages were also preventing local industry from fully utilising installed capacity but Government had come up with measures to address the problem. He added that the mining industry has also been given the green light to import electricity directly to minimise interruptions to production.

On coal and fuel shortages, Dr Gono said Government was also doing its best to address the challenges. “We are making efforts and we are expected to launch a programme next week that guarantees only enough fuel supplies but not excess,” he said.

“You can see why we think the coming agricultural season is going to become a ‘Mother of All Farming Seasons’. Farmers should work hard to complement efforts by Government. Let’s put every inch of soil under crops or grazing. Let’s see Zimbabwe being all green and let’s see a hive of activity in the rearing of livestock as well,” he said.

On the pricing of agricultural produce, Dr Gono said the Government had now come up with an import parity-pricing framework. Under this framework farmers can now be paid half of their deliveries in foreign currency and the reminder in local currency.

Dr Gono said this move was also meant to encourage farmers to deliver their produce to the Grain Marketing Board and curb smuggling, side marketing and boost productivity on the farms. “This incentive has already been extended to wheat farmers. Those who have delivered their grain to the GMB will get 50 percent in foreign currency,” he said.

Dr Gono also urged the banks to expeditiously process farmer’s loans so that their farming activities did not suffer undue delays. He said farmers should be able to access loans within five working days, from the day of application at their nearest banks in their various locations throughout the country.

“Often farmers have applied (for loans) and wait for two months before they get a response. Time is critical in farming and it doesn’t wait for anyone, they (farmers) should get their loans timeously,” he said adding that the central bank has a complementary system that processes the applications in 48 hours.

The Press conference, organised by the Ministry of Information and Publicity, sought to inform the nation on the developments in the agricultural sector. “The Press conference was convened as result of Government’s quest to tell the nation and the world on the progress of Zimbabwe agricultural sector and success story on agricultural development told by us not from the imperialists’ view,” the Minister of Information and Publicity Cde Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said.

He said such Press briefings would be held on a weekly basis so that the nation was kept up to date on developments in the agricultural sector.

Sounds really good, doesn’t it? All those various departments of government seeming to work together, the unusual “transparency” and detail of the press conference; all encouragingly suggest very careful thought having been paid to this year’s farming season.

But less than half way into the season, the story begins to change. Here’s a report (http://www1.sundaymail.co.zw/inside.aspx?sectid=320&cat=1) from the December 8 edition of the Herald’s sister paper, The Sunday Mail :

Fertiliser in short supply

By Tafadzwa Chiremba

THE anticipated bumper harvest might be affected by the unavailability of fertiliser with seceral farmers expressing concern that the good rains being experienced might go to waste. Most shops that sell fertiliser have been empty, while suppliers are reportedly citing unavailability of raw materials as the major cause of the shortages.

Panic is particularly gripping tobacco farmers who use Compound C and Ammonium Nitrate as well as maize farmers who use Compound D and Ammonium Nitrate.

Major suppliers — the Zimbabwe Fertiliser Company (ZFC), Windmill, Zimphos and Sable Chemicals — have informed farmers of the shortages saying they are facing a number of challenges.

ZFC corporate communications manager Mrs Monica Mutuma last week cited the pricing regime as the major cause of the shortages. “The industry has been operating below capacity and this is a result of constraints that we are facing in the industry. However, price is but one of several challenges that we face,” she said.

Mrs Mutuma said although they had recently exported some fertiliser, it would take some time before revenue realised from this exercise had a significant impact on the company’s capacity to produce. “We have been out of the export market for some time and we will need time to make inroads.”

A survey last week, however, revealed that fertiliser was available on the black market at exorbitant prices.

At Mbare Musika, illegal dealers were mainly selling Windmill and ZFC products in bulk with a 50kg bag going for $25 million against the stipulated $10 million.

Mrs Mutuma said their company was distributing the fertiliser through formal channels.

“Our mandate is to produce and market fertilisers and agro-chemicals. For easy access to products for farmers, we have depots, stockists and agro-dealers located in different parts of the country. It is through these networks that we distribute our products. Any other activities outside of that are handled by law enforcement agencies,” said Mrs Mutuma.

An A1 farmer from Mazowe, Mr Isaac Ruturure, said he and a number of his colleagues had been failing to procure fertiliser for the past two months. “Some are resorting to the black market which is unbearable. Most of the manufacturers are short of supplies,” said Mr Ruturure.

Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union president Mr Edward Raradza last week conceded that fertiliser was now a pie in the sky for many and urged all farmers to remain resolute as the Government was making efforts to avert the shortages. “Most of the manufacturers are citing shortages of raw materials as the cause of the shortages. But the Government is importing some fertiliser from China.

“It is only the onset of the planting season and our farmers should not panic,” said Mr Raradza.

The Government is expecting an additional consignment from China this week, after about 800 000 tonnes of Compound D was recently imported from China and South Africa.

The story is no longer as optimistically positive as previously, is it? And the Sunday Mail did not see it fit to ask Gumbo, Gono and Ndhlovu for their comments on the evolving fertilizer shortage scenario. Hmm, strange…

We continue to track farming season readiness. From the Herald of today (http://www.herald.co.zw/inside.aspx?sectid=28193&cat=8) we have:

Fertilizer shortage won’t derail agric season: Gumbo

By Walter Muchinguri

AGRICULTURE Minister Mr Rugare Gumbo has allayed fears that the current fertilizer shortage will derail this year’s agricultural season.

Mr Gumbo said the Government was aware of the shortages and was working flat out to ensure that fertilizer is availed to all farmers. “Yes, we have had challenges but we are doing everything that is humanely (sic) possible to ensure that we source enough fertilizer for this season,” he said.

Government would continue importing fertilizer while ensuring that local fertilizer companies are capacitated to augment the imports.

The country is this week expecting a consignment of fertilizer from China. Zimbabwe recently took delivery of 800 000 tonnes of Compound D from China and South Africa.

The farming community had been gripped by fears of an uncertain farming season as shops ran out of fertilizer while the rains have begun to fall.

The shortage was affecting all farmers, with tobacco farmers requiring Compound C and Ammonium Nitrate while maize producers use Ammonium Nitrate and Compound D.

The country’s major fertilizer suppliers, the Zimbabwe Fertilizer Company, Windmill, Zimphos and Sable Chemicals have been facing serious challenges that have made it almost impossible for them to produce.

Central to the challenges has been the current pricing regime, which the fertilizer companies believe was transferring their income into the informal market where traders were making roaring business from selling fertilizer at black market prices.

This year’s farming season has been dubbed the mother of all agriculture seasons and the availability of fertilizer is key to attaining this goal.

It’s not hard to guess what the next sad installment is likely to be, is it? I’m sure that even as I write, all arms of the regime are practicing their excuses for why the “mother” of all farming seasons could very well turn out to be a dud. I hope that does not happen: an even average farming season would go a long way to preventing much continuing hunger, hardship and decline. But the gradual back-tracking that is already taking place is painfull obvious.

Just a few comments on the absurdities caused by confused, ad hoc, inconsistent economic policy making:

In the second article, the fertilizer company official obliquely complains about being forced to charge prices below the cost of production. We have many years now of evidence of how this creates shortages in the formal market for any product while “fuelling” the black market. So nothing about this aspect of the fertilizer shortage should surprise anybody in Zimbabwe.

And I find it so sadly fascinating that in this time of shortage caused partly by forced uneconomic prices at home, the company should feel compelled to try to recover its production costs and to earn forex for raw materials, etc by exporting! If this is not a sign of a messed up policy environment, I don’t know what is!

“Economic prices” that allowed the manufactures to recover their costs would mean expensive fertilizer, but that is better than absent fertilizer! Shortages would be reduced or eliminated, and much time would be saved by the companies being able to generate the foreign currency equivalent immediately at home, rather than needing to export first.

If there is half-decent rain right up to March or April, Zimbabweans’ natural farming hard work may yet save the season. But seven years after the land revolution, their government seems as confused about how to get farming back on track as ever.

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