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Zimbabwe Wheat Production Hits New Low

Zimbabwe faces a serious wheat shortage next year as farmers have once again failed to meet the production targets for the crop.

With the wheat planting season practically over, Zimbabwean farmers have managed to plant less than ten percent of the projected goal of 100,000 hectares, down 60 percent from last year. Observers say this could mean the return of bread shortages that Zimbabweans have experienced over the past several years.

Zimbabwe Farmers' Union executive director, Paul Zakariya, put down the failure to the same old problem that has dogged Zimbabwe's agricultural sector for years; a lack of resources.

"It has to do [with] non-availability of working capital, banks are not financing, government has no capacity to finance at the moment and we still have serious problems in terms of availability of seeds and affordability thereof," Zakariya said. "We also have problems with our electricity supply, constant and very, very frequent power cuts, fertilizers are not readily available and if they are available affordability is an issue."

Zakariya said Zimbabwe needs about 350,000 to 400,000 metric tons every year but even at its most productive, the country has never grown enough to meet its needs.

Spokesman for the Commercial Grain Producers Association, Clive Levy, said while Zimbabwe has never produced enough to meet its needs, it did come close in the 1990s. Also, he added, Zimbabwe grows a soft variety of wheat, which on its own is not good enough to make bread. So in addition to the supplementary soft wheat the country imported, it had to import a hard variety which cannot be grown in Zimbabwe.

Levy echoed Zakariya by saying lack of access to finance and an assured supply of electricity are some of the reasons farmers have decided not to bother growing wheat. He also said when farmers produced wheat under ideal conditions they'd harvest eight to nine tons per hectare but average production is now down to less than five tons.

Critics of Zimbabwe's land reform program, launched by President Robert Mugabe in 2000, blame it for the plummeting of agricultural production in Zimbabwe. The program saw white farmers losing their farms for the resettlement of landless blacks whom some say do not have the skills. But Zakariya said even with the best skills in the world, without the money, nobody could produce anything. He added that agriculture, like all sectors of Zimbabwe's economy, needs massive re-capitalization.

"What we need is to build the confidence of investors in Zimbabwe. The whole question of non-productivity in Zimbabwe borders around the issues of investor confidence," he said.

Zakariya said a change of policies and full implementation of the agreement that brought about Zimbabwe's unity government could lead to a change in the country's fortunes for the better.