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Extremely Dry Weather Further Threatens Zimbabwe Food Security

The UN Food and Agriculture organization says, “Extremely dry weather in parts of Zimbabwe is likely to cause serious damage to the main 2008 maize crop.” The FAO says this could worsen what it calls an already “precarious food situation.”

FAO Food Emergency Officer Kisan Gunjal says the dry weather in several provinces comes on the heels of too much rain several months ago.

“Yes, this is the ironic thing that there were a lot of rains, particularly in November, December and January. In the middle of December there was big flooding in many of the provinces, and also again in January there was some flooding. And so, there was a lot of rainfall in the first half of the season and then the rains have just kind of quit in the second half since February. And so it’s obviously a concern,” he says.

While predicting serious damage in the main maize crop this year, Gunjal says it’s difficult to determine right now just how small the yield may be.

“When there is a dry spell, let’s say, three decades (SIC), that’s 30 days, some of the crop, which had received very good rains before that, would survive. (It) probably would have an impact on the yields. But there are some provinces where we see up to two months of dry spell and that would destroy crops, especially the late planted crops. So, there is a mixture of early planted, late planted, mid-plantings, so it’s difficult to say at this time,” he says.

Gunjal says one clue as to what to expect may be found in the size of last year’s maize crop.

“Last year’s harvest was about 850,000 tons, just of maize. And that itself was much lower, something like 50 percent lower, than the year before, which the government said was a very good crop. But anyway, that was a drought year and we’re definitely expecting something worse than last year’s,” he says.

However, more than dry weather is affecting Zimbabwe’s agriculture. There’s a shortage of what are called key inputs, such as seeds and fertilizer. Many farmers could not afford seeds, even though they were available in the market.

“So seed was one problem, but the main problem after that is the fertilizer. Less than 10 percent of the requirements are available. So, basically we’re talking about no fertilizer agriculture,” he says.

Zimbabwe’s economy is only making matters worse, with an inflation rate in December of more than 100,000 percent.

Gunjal says, “Prices are rising very fast at that rate and perhaps the actual inflation now – we’re in April – is probably much, much higher than over 100,000 (percent) that was estimated in December. So prices are rising very fast. And if people’s incomes don’t keep up with it – salaries obviously don’t increase that fast – it’s difficult for people to buy anything.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization has been invited by the Zimbabwe government to send a mission to the country later this month. Experts will then be able to better assess just how bad the maize crop will be.