ALMOST a month into the current summer cropping season, there is still insufficient seed and fertiliser on the market due to delays by government in rev
iewing prices of agricultural inputs.
Stakeholders in the agricultural sector say the shortage of inputs, mainly due to unrealistic pricing policies by government among other factors, has become a perennial problem which has affected expected high yields, even during goods rainy seasons.
The shortage of inputs was confirmed by the Secretary for Agriculture Ngoni Masoka and seed and fertiliser company officials Crispen Madziyauswa, Themba Nkatazo and Dennis Zaranyika while briefing the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement, Agriculture and Water Development on the state of preparedness for this summer’s cropping season last Tuesday.
Various players in the agricultural sector also attended the briefing at parliament.
The portfolio committee on Tuesday held a meeting which was closed to the press to consider the oral evidence submitted by stakeholders to make recommendations to government but the details could not be ascertained.
Government however announced new fertiliser prices later the same day and is still considering the price of seed, amid concerns that it will take too long for supplies to normalise on the market due to logistical problems.
A tonne of phosphate now costs $20 016 865. Seed growers are asking for $20 million per tonne, up from the current $4,2 million.
According to the officials, there is only 50 % of the required seed and fertiliser on the market because seed growers and seed houses were still holding onto the product disputing the $4,2 million per tonne price.
The officials said fertiliser supplies were also being hampered by the pricing issue as well as foreign currency shortages and power outages.
A total of 800 000 tonnes of fertiliser and about 50 000 tonnes of seed are required for the season.
The shortage of the inputs for the summer cropping season comes in the wake of an unsuccessful winter wheat season which has worsened the shortage of bread on the market where there are no other basic food commodities like maize meal.
The country is facing a critical food crisis and is depending on imports from Malawi and South Africa.
The same portfolio committee, in its report to parliament last Tuesday on the winter wheat programme, attributed the failure to poor planning by government and other players in the sector in terms of resource mobilisation, delays by government in announcing pre-planting prices, and “too many parallel programmes without clearly defined roles and matching resources for implementing agencies” like Operation Maguta, the District Development Fund, the Agricultural Rural Development Authority, underutilisation of land by new farmers and power outages, among other factors.
In his presentation to the portfolio committee, Masoka said the fertiliser industry was operating below capacity.
“The industry is citing non availability of foreign currency for the purchase of raw materials and the issue of pricing as major factors affecting the viability of the industry.
“We can actually meet our targets as we have almost put together all the necessary inputs and mechanisation except for a few aspects such as fertiliser and timeous seed availability,” Masoka was quoted as saying in the Herald last Wednesday.
Zimbabwe Seed Trade Association chairperson Themba Nkatazo said there was urgent need for government to address the issue of pricing with seed houses which had only received 50% of the requirements while the other 50% was still with growers who were disputing the current $4,2 million per tonne.
He said there was enough seed for this summer cropping season once the pricing issue was resolved.
Nkatazo’s deputy Zaranyika told the committee that seed houses had so far received 10 000 tonnes of seed when it should have received about 20 000 tonnes by now.
“We are facing problems in getting seed from growers who are not willing to release their seed due to the price which they say is not viable. Prices of seed should be increased for the seed that is still with producers. Otherwise we have enough seed for this summer cropping season,” Nkatazo was also quoted as saying.
Commenting of the fertiliser situation, Zimbabwe Fertiliser company said apart from the pricing, production was also affected by foreign currency shortages, power outages and inadequate coal supplies to manufacturers.
Fertiliser manufacturers are reported to have last week submitted their foreign currency requirements to the Ministry of Industry and International Trade for the importation of raw materials which they said should be treated as a matter of urgency.
Agriculture minister Rugare Gumbo this week said government intends to import 800 000 tonnes of fertiliser to avert a crisis in the agricultural sector but stakeholders say this is coming “rather too late and the impact might not be felt due to logistical problems.
“We need to have these inputs in place well in advance if we are to ensure that we regain our bread basket status in the region. Every season we are caught napping despite being aware of the requirements.
The problem of inputs has become a vicious circle and its time we changed our attitudes and began prioritising agriculture as the back bone of our economy,” said one player who asked not to be named.
The same sentiments were echoed by Chief George Chimombe when he presented the winter wheat report to parliament.
Chimombe told the House that the committee was extremely worried to learn that preparations for the programme had started too late resulting in the reduction of the targeted 80 000 hectarage to 76 000 to match available resources.
The committee also noted that there was lack of coordination in the sector and there was need for government to identify strategic wheat farmers and equip them fully with all the require resources.
“Farming should be treated like full-time business and therefore government should come up with a policy that discourages “cell-phone” part-time farming.
“Government should seriously consider announcing pre-planting prices so that farmers can plan their programmes in advance and these prices should be attractive enough so as to incentivise more farmers to venture into strategic crops,” he said.