Maize production plunges 40%

Maize production plunges 40 percent

The Financial Gazette

7 July 2016

ZIMBABWE is headed towards one of its worst food deficits since the attainment of majority rule in 1980 amid indications that output for its staple maize crop nose-dived by as much as 40 percent in the 2015/16 season.

Preliminary results from an on-going Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) suggest that the country is likely to produce 445 600 tonnes of maize compared to last year’s 742 000-tonnes.

This reflects a 40 percent decline from the previous season.

While harvesting of the late planted crop is still on-going, other estimates by independent crop assessors show that production can be as low as 250 000 tonnes because of the poor yield per hectare.

Zimbabwe, like other countries in southern Africa facing the effects of a severe drought early this year, declared a state of disaster to allow for international aid organisations and government to raise cash for grain imports to meet the country’s 1,8 million-tonne annual grain requirement.

Although the 2015/16 crop assessment report is yet to be published, the ZimVAC assessment shows that all districts in Masvingo province and the southern parts of Midlands were likely to have harvested at most three months supply of cereal.

“At national level, according to World Food Programme vulnerability analysis and mapping, it is estimated that 1,5 million people are in need of immediate food assistance through June,” the report said.

Indications on the ground show that in some districts of Masvingo, in a good year at least 36 000 hectares of maize is planted, but this year only about 8 000 hectares were planted and out of the 8 000 hectares 55 percent of the crop was a write off and the remaining 45 percent was of poor quality and yield.

Statistics also show that Zimbabwe is one of the worst affected countries in southern Africa where 30 million people are at risk of hunger.

Four million Zimbabweans from that number are in need of emergency food aid.

Despite the El Nino induced drought wrecking havoc on livelihoods, there is a 75 percent possibility that a La Nina (opposite of El Nino) weather phenomenon, generally associated with above average rainfall, would most likely occur by December 2016 and a good harvest is therefore predicted in 2017.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Wonder Chabikwa, said the organisation was still waiting for the final production figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development and from the Agricultural Extension Services.

“Farmers are still harvesting the late crop planted in February and March, but indications are that the crop will be less than last season’s crop,” Chabikwa said.

An assessment by the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) gives production estimates of ± 700 000 tonnes.

CFU deputy director, Marc-Carrie Wilson, said initially the organisation had set its projections at 500 000 tonnes.

“We had anticipated that the season production would be 500 000 tonnes but because of the late rains we added ± 200 000 tonnes. Crop reports show that the early planted irrigated crop performed well, unlike the early planted dryland crop, which was a write off,” Wilson said.

Although Regions 3, 4 and 5 were the most affected, the late planted dryland crop is still being harvested.

According to the Famine Early Warning System (Fewsnet), estimated maize production levels for the 2015/16 cropping season range from  35 to 50 percent of a five-year average.

The current five-year average is 1,1 million tonnes meaning that the country could harvest close to 500 000 tonnes, according to the Fewsnet estimates.