HARARE, May 20- Zimbabwe is expecting a high yield of soybeans this year on the back of the good rains received in most parts of the country and an increase in the number of farmers who have opted to grow the crop instead of the traditional maize, tobacco and cotton, says the Chairman of the National Soya Beans Promotion Taskforce, Sheunesu Mpepereki.

He told New Ziana here Monday that production was expected to surpass last year’s as more land was put under the crop. “Expectations are high this year considering that most farmers shifted from farming tobacco to soya beans. We are optimistic of a good harvest this year and also the hectarage has increased,” he added.

Production of soybeans in Zimbabwe had declined to as little as 37,000 tonnes in 2010 from a peak of 170,000 tonnes in 2001 against a national requirement of 200,000 tonnes for stock-feed and cooking oil production. Last year, the country produced 150,000 tonnes against the national target of 250,000 tonnes.

Zimbabwe has a soya beans crushing capacity of 450,000 tonnes but the industry is currently operating below 10 per cent capacity utilisation.

As a result of the low producer price for maize and other cash crops, mainly tobacco and cotton, many farmers have turned to soybean cultivation as it fetches attractive prices. Farmers are also turning to soybeans because it does not require many agricultural inputs.

Mpepereki said although soybean farmers had not been receiving funding from the government, the crop had the potential to become the biggest income generator in the agriculture sector.

“Although currently there is no funding support available for soybean production, the country has potential to produce over 350,000 tonnes with proper mobilization of farmers and resources, making it a major cash and food crop,” he added.

He said the Presidential Input Scheme should also be extended to cover soybeans as it had been excluded, resulting in many people not appreciating the crop. Soybeans can be used in a variety of ways such as substituting for meat, as animal feed and it now contributes up to 50 per cent of cooking oil production.