Monday, April 07, 2008
WHILE elections and politics are dominating news, life does go on in other areas and one urgent matter requiring attention is the need to get a decent wheat crop planted and irrigated. Serious wheat farmers say they have tilled their land but now need more fertilizer and fuel. They are also likely to need a special effort from Zesa Holdings if some of the problems that arose last season are not to be repeated.
We believe that there is more opportunity for banks to be involved this time round in financing the crop. Farmers who grew wheat last year should not find it hard to get money this year, since they do have that track record. Programmes to import fertilizer, or raw materials for Zimbabwean fertilizer, need to be accelerated to ensure that there is adequate fertilizer for the whole season.
Because wheat is a pure irrigated crop, it is easy to calculate the amount of inputs needed very precisely and easy to see if a farmer is serious; all that is required is a physical inspection of irrigation equipment and a check that the land has been tilled.
Anyone who has yet to till their land and anyone without irrigation equipment cannot be serious. Anyone who has tilled and who has the equipment needs to be assured of the rest of the finance and inputs. Wheat is a low-risk crop so long as the infrastructure is available.
Last season, there were breakdowns of Zesa Holdings equipment and some wheat had to be ploughed under as result. This season the power utility has to ensure that faults are fixed quickly.
So far as load-shedding is concerned, farmers need to plan on being able to irrigate their crops with night-time irrigation, when most factories are closed.
At one time, Zesa Holdings used to offer concessionary rates between around 9pm, when the household cooking peak was over, and 6am, when factories began restarting machines, and could perhaps consider doing this again.
Every tonne of wheat that is produced does require some foreign currency for inputs, but that currency is only a small fraction of what is required to import a tonne of foreign wheat.
Most of the costs of the Zimbabwean-grown wheat are in local currency.
It therefore makes sense for the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the agricultural finance system, Zesa Holdings and other critical suppliers of inputs to do all they can to maximise the wheat crop produced locally.