Dire crop report: Maize hectarage is down 12%, and Govt fears panic buying of grain

(pic: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

Maize hectarage fell by 12% this season as farmers planted less due to the drought, and government fears panic buying may cause shortages.

The Ministry of Agriculture’s crop and livestock assessment report says farmers planted 1.7 million hectares in the 2023/4 season, down from 1.9 million ha last year.

“The dry conditions negatively impacted the national planting area, significantly reducing the area dedicated to cultivating food and other crops,” the Ministry said.

Some 60% of the maize crop was planted in December. An “unprecedented” 28-day dry spell this year has left most of the country’s maize crop “temporarily wilting, while others are showing signs of permanent wilting”.

In some areas, maize grown under Pfumvudza, which is designed to be climate-resilient, is doing better than crops under conventional tillage, the survey found.

Panic buying fears

The survey found that farmers currently have 463,428 tonnes of maize in storage. Panic buying may set it, the Ministry fears.

“Panic purchases and grain hoarding by households and traders are expected which will deplete the grain earlier than expected, even in areas with surplus production. This will cause significant increases in cereal prices.”

Cabinet announced Tuesday that government would buy grain from local farmers at the import-parity price of US$390 a tonne.

Most maize is privately funded

The bulk of the maize planted area, 1 176 026 ha, is by self-funded farmers. The Pfumvudza programme accounted for 447 415ha, 26 890 ha was under the National Enhanced Agriculture Productivity Scheme (formerly Command Agriculture), while state-owned ARDA planted 43 625 ha.

ARDA has been ramping up production, targeting to put 100,000 ha under irrigation. This is part of a strategy to guarantee 500,000 tonnes of maize for the strategic grain reserve. This plan became necessary after government liberalised the maize market and ended GMB’s maize monopoly. Now, only government-funded maize, such as grain under Pfumvudza, goes to GMB.

Consumption patterns

Zimbabwe consumes about 2.2 million tonnes of grain per year, with 1.8 million tonnes for food per year. This translates to 150,000 tonnes for human consumption each month. Zimbabweans are also now eating more rice and potatoes.

Says the report: “Rice consumption has increased from 10,000MT 10 years ago to over 120,000MT annually, some 10,000MT monthly. Potato consumption is also on the increase with an estimated production of over 500,000MT annually, or a consumption of 41,666MT monthly. In future planning, this food system shift should be taken into consideration, while appropriate investment in rice production should be accelerated.”

The plan?

The Ministry plans to extend cloud seeding, and recommends duty-free imports of maize meal and rice. Longer term, the Ministry says it plans to speed up irrigation deployment to at least 137,000ha from the current 10,000ha annually. Distribution of food aid has started, targeting 2.7 million at risk. In its food aid, government is using consumption of 7.5kg per person per month. This will be increased to 8.5kg per person per month from October.

Cabinet has announced that government will allow duty free imports of of maize, rice and cooking oil, starting July. There is also a waiver on rise and potato seed. Millers will also be allowed to import genetically modified maize for stockfeed.