HARARE, At least 38,000 hectares have been put under winter wheat i Zimbabwe so far amid concerns that more land could have been made available had farmers been able to harvest their summer crops early, a senior government official says.

The Zimbabwe government is embarking on a special winter wheat production programme (command wheat planting) following success of the special maize production programme introduced in the last summer cropping season. Under the command wheat programme, production is targeted at 280,000 tons.

Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development Ministry Permanent Secretary Ringson Chitsiko said more land could have been made available for winter wheat but most farmers had yet to harvest their summer crop. As I speak before this committee we are at around 37,000 to 38,000 hectares. We are gunning for 60,000 hectares, he told the Parliamentary Committee on Lands, Agriculture, Mechanization and the Parliamentary Committee on Irrigation here Tuesday.

Commitments from the farmers far exceed the 60,000 hectares but the big challenge is the persistent high moisture content in the maize grain preventing farmers from harvesting to free the land for winter wheat planting.

Chitsiko said the total area put under winter wheat would be ascertained by the second week of July as more farmers were still keen on the programme and could plant even after the recommended cut-off time. Normally one would want to see the winter wheat having been planted in June at the latest but this is moving at a very slow pace because of the reason that I have mentioned," he said.

But farmers being who they are they know their circumstances best and it can only be by the second week of July when we will definitely know whether we can get to 60,000 hectares or not, he said.

Chitsiko said wheat production in Zimbabwe had been on the rise in recent years, with the total area put under the crop last year reaching at least 14,000 hectares. up from 10,000 hectares the previous year.

He also told the committees that the was not funding agriculture research, a situation which is affecting acquisition of new

knowledge on crops and livestock. Chitsiko said his Ministry would like the Agriculture Research Council capacitated to enable it carry out its mandate.

First, there is inadequacy of funding. Funding is a problem to the entire economy and agriculture research in Zimbabwe has not been spared. As a result, we have inadequate equipment which is old and outdated, he said. We need in this age of ICT, to be able to buy state of the art equipment that would help with information archival and retrieval."

Chitsiko said lack of resources was also inhibiting the passing of research experience to new researchers.


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