Zimbabwe may import around 900,000 metric tonnes of grain this year to cover a deficit widened by two weather extremes – drought and Cyclone Idai. The weather occurrences, which experts say are a result of climate change, have severely affected this year’s crops in the last month.
The country requires 1.8 million tonnes of grain for both human and livestock consumption.
Farmers unions, who earlier projected an output of 900,000 tonnes of maize this year, had reviewed downwards their projection to around 500,000 tonnes after four weeks of an unadorned dry spell.
The output is expected to go further down to around 400,000 tonnes after the already suffering cereals were ravaged by torrential rain in the wake of Cyclone Idai.
Consequently, the country is expected to fund close to US$300m to import maize from Brazil and other South American countries.
The development will further burden the already struggling Treasury and cause more problems for the economy as more foreign currency is needed to import the cereals.
Wonder Chabikwa, the president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, says government should begin mobilising money for grain imports from South America that will cover the shortfall from now till the next harvesting season.
According to Chabikwa, Cyclone Idai’s torrential rains have brought even more crop losses, causing the country to import more maize. “The government has to dig deeper into its coffers to ensure that the citizens don’t starve. It’s unfortunate that productive money is now going to be used for maize importation,” says Chabikwa.
Agricultural experts suggest that the government will have to work double time to mobilise resources in time to ensure that farmers plant early in the next farming season.
The country is endowed with vast water bodies but local farmers have no irrigation infrastructure to utilise them. The majority of farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture which is exposed to climate change, causing the country to struggle to feed its own people, let alone exporting food. Of the 300,000 hectares under irrigation in the 1990s, only 100,000 hectares now remain.
Paul Zakariya, the Zimbabwe Farmers Union executive director, said Cyclone Idai pushed the country’s import bill higher as it swept away what was left by El Nino.
“Only last month, we were complaining about badly-affected crops due to intense moisture stress,” said Zakariya. “What was left by the dry spell in the last three weeks was flounced away by heavy downpours, leaving most farmers with nothing to count on. The situation can be best described as having changed from a frying pan into fire as farmers have had bigger losses after these sweeping-away rains.
“In some areas, which were not badly affected by heavy rainfall, most crops were already a write-off and there won’t be significant changes in terms of the crop quality,” Zakariya added.
He said farmers should invest in irrigation equipment to boost productivity all year round. The 2018-2019 farming season will be even worse than the 2016-2017 season when the country recorded just 500,000 tonnes of maize due to El Nino effects.