Thursday, March 09, 2006

International Development: Zimbabwe wheat supplies dwindle

Zimbabwe missed an opportunity to produce sufficient crops to meet national consumption requirements this season due to inadequate inputs and uncertainty about land rights, says an agricultural expert.

The country has experienced food shortages over the last four years, mainly due to erratic weather conditions, the impact of the chaotic fast-track land reform programme on the agricultural sector and a lack of foreign currency to import inputs, such as fuel and fertiliser.Wheat stocks have dwindled to the point where millers have warned that supplies would only cover a few more weeks, while the crop forecast for the maize harvest this year points to another deficit in production.

The agricultural expert, who did not wish to be named, told IRIN that Zimbabwe "had a very small wheat crop last year", and the current low supply was a result of "imports not keeping pace with consumption".In terms of maize, "we're looking at a similar crop to last year, between 700,000 mt and 850,000 mt, so we're probably looking at a shortfall of between 500,000 mt and 600,000 mt".

The lack of wheat was critical because bread played an important role in the national diet as a substitute for the staple maize-meal porridge."The biggest problem is that the maize-meal price has gone up because the current crop is not yet ready for harvest - it's probably in peak demand right now - and the price has shot up to Zim $500,000 [about US $5] per 20 kg of milled maize," the expert noted.

The official Herald newspaper reported that a 10 kg bag of maize meal was selling for up to Zim $600,000 (about $6) on the parallel market.As a result, the staple was priced beyond the reach of a large proportion of the population. "If there's no maize meal around, or people cannot afford it, they will consume bread - it is an important part of the local diet - but, again because of the shortages of wheat, the price has gone up to Zim $70,000 [$0.70 cents] for a loaf. It used to be around Zim $35,000 [$0.35 cents]," the expert explained.Although bread was available in shops, it too had become relatively unaffordable to the millions of Zimbabweans struggling to make ends meet as the country's economic meltdown continues.

"We are struggling; we missed an opportunity this [planting] season to become self-sufficient. We could have produced well in excess of our [consumption] requirements had there been the inputs available for farmers to plant, as we had a very good season in terms of rain," he commented.The agricultural expert noted that banks were loath to lend money to farmers, given the uncertainty over security of tenure, so that "financing, fuel, electricity, fertiliser and chemicals are all limitations. Anything that has a foreign currency component, that we have to import, is in short supply".

Reproduced with the kind permission of IRIN
Copyright IRIN 2006
Photo: IRIN
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies