Umguza farmers abandon wheat

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FARMERS in Umguza district in Matabeleland North are shunning wheat citing viability challenges, it has emerged.

BY MTHANDAZO NYONI

Umguza, one of the prime farming areas in the province, used to produce a substantial amount of winter wheat before the 2000 land reform exercise, which saw the displacement of hundreds of white commercial farmers.

Farmers countrywide have failed to make adequate preparations for this year’s wheat farming season due to the same constraints they have faced over the past decade.

This saw winter wheat farming in the country dropping to about 2 600 hectares from 6 000 planted in 2014.

Umguza Agricultural Society secretary Lewis Mutsatsa said farmers in the region had abandoned the crop due to lack of capital, intermittent power cuts and uncompetitive prices on the market.

“This time around farmers in the region have abandoned wheat farming due to viability challenges,” he said.

“They are saying the crop is not viable and Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is not paying on time. There are no seeds and cost of production is very high as compared to other countries.”

In Russia and Australia, production costs hover between $500 and $600 per hectare, but in Zimbabwe each hectare costs
$2 500.

Once touted as Southern Africa’s major winter wheat producer, Zimbabwe has fallen on hard times.

Production of the grain has been on the decline with little or no effort from responsible authorities to resuscitate it to the 1990s levels when the country used to produce 325 000 tonnes of wheat per annum. In 2013, only 25 000 tonnes were produced. Currently, the country is targeting to produce 40 000 tonnes.

Farmers hinted that if nothing was done to save the crop, it would be totally abandoned in the entire country like what happened to cotton.

Cotton farming was shunned over poor prices and wheat could suffer a similar fate.

Zimbabwe imports 80% flour from South Africa, thereby widening the country’s trade deficit.

The government announced that it had released only $5 million to GMB to pay wheat farmers for last year’s crop deliveries.