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Challenges such as electricity costs and blackouts, rising input costs and reluctance by financial institutions to fund production, threaten the viability of the sector.

THE 2015 winter wheat planting deadline passed last week with very little happening on the ground as farmers failed to make adequate preparations due to financial constraints.

The season began with farmers calling for financial support from government and the banking sector as funding continues to be the biggest challenge in production of the crop.

Challenges such as electricity costs and blackouts, rising input costs and reluctance by financial institutions to fund production, threaten the viability of the sector.

Again, the country has not been able to take full aantage of the huge irrigation potential available to farmers. Most of the country’s dams remain full and irrigation systems lie idle due to poor maintenance and upkeep of equipment.

Support from government is highly unlikely as government is also facing a financial crisis, while the banking sector, the only option available to farmers, still has g concerns around the legal and technical issues regarding the property rights on the 99 year lease document.

Zimbabwe Women Farmers Trust president, Dephina Nkomo, lamented the lack of financial support to farmers.

“Bankers want collateral from farmers and many of us have given up our houses as collateral so that we are able to access funding from banks. The money we are making is not even enough for us to make a profit. We are only able to break even, which is not fair. By now farmers should have planted their crop but they are still scavenging around for funding, while others have abandoned the crop totally,” Nkomo said.

“Electricity costs and the electricity cuts are proving to be a major challenge for farmers. I am at the farm but I am using a generator to irrigate which is costly. With such a scenario, preparations for the winter crop are at a slow pace because farmers cannot afford to grow the crop without adequate financing support from the government,” she said.

Wheat yield per hectare has declined to about three tonnes per hectare and this means there is need to increase hectarage to compensate for the declining yield per hectare. Farmers will therefore need between US$1000 and US$1 200 to produce a hectare of wheat.

“If farmers are financially supported by government and financial institutions, they can put a stop to this increase in imports. Food importation is never a solution to the challenges in the agricultural sector.

“Looking at the changing climatic conditions, there is need for more irrigation establishment and the rehabilitation of the irrigation schemes. This will put a stop to the imports that are causing problems as the issuance of permits has resulted in the importation of mealie meal into the country,” Nkomo said.

In terms of contract farming, most financial institutions that have supported wheat production felt discouraged as government failed to come up with a regulatory framework to guide contact farming.

Although government recently paid US $5,5 million to farmers for wheat delivered to the Grain Marketing Board last year to boost preparations for this winter cropping season, there is g resistance from farmers to grow wheat due to electricity challenges which continue to bedevil the sector.

Efforts have been made to engage ZESA into ring fencing wheat farming areas to allow adequate supply of power but farmers have always been left disappointed after failure by the power utility to ensure uninterrupted electricity supplies.

The country forks out close to US$220 million for wheat imports annually at an import parity price of US$468 to US$500 per tonne, to meet the national requirements of 450 000 tonnes of wheat.

The wheat planting deadline can be extended to May 31.

Source : Financial Gazette