INSIGHT | What does the latest crop survey tell us about the state of our agriculture?

Packing of blueberries at Lauetta Farm, a fresh produce exporter near Harare.

Every year, the Zimbabwe government releases its crop assessment survey, which lays out the estimated productivity of the farming season.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Agriculture released its report for the 2022-2023 season. The major highlight in the report is an estimate that maize production will rise by 58% from last year. But what else does the report tell us about the state of Zimbabwean agriculture?

Here, we pull out some key highlights from the report.

Yields are better, but still too low

The good news is that the estimated maize harvest is about 2.3 million tonnes, a 58% increase from the 1.4 million tonnes produced last year.

Says the report: “In light of the positive 2023 cereal balance sheet , grain importation is not recommended in the next 12 months.”

That there is a big jump expected in the harvests despite only a 1% increase in the area planted shows that yields improved this season, due to better rainfall. The yield – the amount of maize a farmer grows per hectare – is seen growing by 54% from 0.7 tonnes per hectare to 1.17t/ha.

However, the data shows an old worry; yields improved among commercial farmers, but still remains low for poorer farmers. Large-scale commercial farmers are averaging yields of 4 tonnes per hectare, with some reaping up to 18 tonnes per hectare. But communal farmers are averaging just 0.84 tonnes per hectare.

Fertiliser prices have soared, fuelled by the Ukraine war and inflation in Zimbabwe, making it harder for communal farmers to increase yields.

How do our yields compare with those of our neighbours? Maize yields averaged above 5 tonnes/ha in South Africa, where maize is grown almost entirely by commercial farmers who use GMO seeds. Yields in Zambia, where smallholder farmers grow 90% of the maize, have doubled over the past 20 years to over 2 tonnes/ha due to a fertiliser subsidy programme. Kenya’s yield is 1.5tones/ha.

Which provinces produce the most maize?

Mashonaland West produces the most maize, followed by Mashonaland East and the Midlands. Matabeleland North, traditionally not a maize-growing region, is expected to ramp up output this year.

How are crops funded?

Most food crop farmers fund themselves, facing the brunt of rising input costs. Self-financing accounts for 60% of total food crop production.

For maize, the National Enhanced Agriculture Productivity Scheme (NEAPS), formerly known as Command Agriculture, accounts for nearly half of the crop. It is funded by CBZ and AFC, who lend to farmers and get government guarantees. In the 2022-3 season, the maize harvest from CBZ funding is estimated at 750 000 tonnes, at an average yield of 5 tonnes/ha, while AFC is projected to produce 330 000 tonnes, averaging a 6 tonne/ha yield.

What about Pfumvudza? Is it productive?

According to the report, farmers on the Pfumvudza programme, who get inputs such as lime and fertilisers, are more productive than those using “conventional” farming. The report projects that in 2022-3, yields for Pfumvudza maize will average 2.37 tonnes per hectare, compared to 1.17 tonnes per hectare for conventional maize.

What’s happening with horticulture?

It is a mixed picture on the horticulture front. The good news is that output for emerging crops is up. Zimbabwe will harvest 69% more blueberries while pecan nuts output is up 43%. But tea production is falling as smaller producers abandon the crop due to low global prices. Peas are down 29% because of low prices, higher freight costs, and the impact of Zimbabwe’s power crisis. Producers need an uninterrupted cold chain to maintain standards.

How do they even gather this data?

The report uses data from various sources. These include surveys from government departments such as Agritex, and from farmers’ associations. Some 58 000 farmers were interviewed. On maize, the report used data from the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA), which uses satellite data to measure the planted area.