HARARE, May 21 — Production of sugarcane in Zimbabwe is projected to drop by three per cent to 3.8 million metric tons this year because of a 12 per cent drop in area harvested, although yield per hectare is expected to increase, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The FAO said in a report issued here Tuesday that the scenario would result in sugar output decreasing only marginally to 480,000 tonnes from the 488,000 tonnes produced last year. “The drop in area harvested is mainly due to the fact that the sugar mills will not be receiving any cane for producing sugar from the Green Fuel ethanol project,” it said.

“Over the past two years Green Fuel has supplied cane to the mills as it had temporarily stopped producing ethanol due to storage limitations.”

In August 2013, the Zimbabwe government announced a 10 per cent mandatory blending of petrol, a move likely to see all sugarcane from the Green Fuel project being used to produce ethanol.

Cane yield per hectare, however, is expected to increase as good summer rains from December 2013 to March 2014 improved the availability of irrigation water in supply dams.

“Two large estates, Triangle and Hippo Valley, have about 44,000 hectares of sugarcane land and produce in excess of 3.0 million tonnnes of cane or approximately 80 per cent of the total cane crop and with good rains they can produce more,” the FAO said.

In the 2013/14 season, Zimbabwe harvested 3.9 million tonnes of cane on 46,605 hectares, marginally less than the 4.0 million tonnes from 53,486 hectares the previous season.

Experts say the marginal decrease in cane production was mainly caused by the effects of the 2012/13 drought.

The influx of cheap sugar onto the domestic market as a result of significantly lower international prices has in the past impacted negatively on the price of locally produced sugar until the government banned imports of the commodity in January this year.

Only the importation of white manufacturers’ grade sugar for the beverage industry is still permitted as the government seeks to help the local sugar industry get back onto its feet