With farmers set for more days of a dry spell, the outlook is fanning drought fears with summer crops now in critical need of rainfall and showing signs of moisture stress.
Of late, the rainfall distribution patterns across the country have been uneven, shattering hopes of farmers who — only few weeks ago — had projected a bumper harvest.
Analysts have warned a drought would trigger huge demand for grain imports.
This, would in turn, exert pressure on the exchange rate and elevate inflation pressures.
It will have a negative impact on society, with more people expected to fall into extreme poverty.
In February, Zimbabwe lifted the ban on grain imports it had imposed in October 2021 as the country anticipated record maize output in more than three decades and indications of good yields in the current season.
While the Government said the lifting of the ban was meant to preserve stocks in strategic reserves after projected deliveries failed to reach targeted 2,8 million tonnes, the move triggered speculation, with some observers saying Government could have anticipated a bad season.
“Only a few weeks ago, my crop was looking good…it had become more certain that I will have a good yield but it’s all gone,” Mary Musinga, a small holder farmer in Rusape, 180 km east of Harare told Business Weekly, showing her thirst maize crop.
“I am very concerned because the grain I have won’t take us through to the next harvest.”
In some areas, the maize crop is showing severe signs of moisture stress while the crop in other areas is a complete write-off. Even if the rains are to be received in the next few days, some irreversible damage has already been done. The dry spell would lead to lower output, analysts warned, despite bigger hectarage planted.
“We are already counting losses but we may salvage something if we receive the rains in the next few days,” Getrude Nemaunga from Odzi area said in an interview.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFC) described the situation as “appalling”, saying a drought situation was most likely. “It’s bad,” ZFC executive director Paul Zakariya said.
“Much of the crop in south of the country is severely stressed, reaching nearly wilting point. We have also covered Matabeleland North and South as well as Midlands and if these provinces do not receive the rains in the next two or three days, it will be a possible write off. The situation is equally bad in Manicaland Province.”
“However farmers who planted small grains are not yet been badly affected,” Zakariya added.
Economist Professor, Gift Mugano, said the “looming” drought would have “serious” negative impact on the economy. “The drought, which we are witnessing will come with negative impact on the economy,” Mugano said in an interview.
“You need to know that 70 percent of the raw materials we use in the manufacturing sector come from agricultural sector, so with this kind of a drought, we will be forced to import more and this will result in huge demand for foreign currency and pressure on the exchange rate and inflation,” Mugano added.
“Once that happens, inflation will turn its ugly heard on us. The drought will also have social consequences on society. We expect to see more people enter into poverty because of the absence of food security. The latest figures from Zimstats in terms of people who are in extreme poverty is around 49 percent. With this drought we expect to have more than half of the population of this country to enter into poverty.”
Russia—Ukraine war, rising food prices
The war between Ukraine and Russia has accelerated increase in commodity prices, with maize, wheat and soya surpassing the 2008 levels in the past few days.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Ukraine farmers may miss the May cropping season. Russia may and reduce supplies in response to western sanctions.
Ukraine accounts for 15 percent and 10 percent of the global maize and wheat exports respectively. Russia is the largest exporter of maize in the work, accounting for 17 percent of total exports and second largest supplier of sunflower seed.
The black sea region exports 12 percent of global food calories including sunflower oil, wheat and maize and the bulk of the commodities go to the Middle East and Africa.
“For Zimbabwe to meet domestic shortfalls, it will come at a huge cost,” economist Carlos Tadya said. Global food prices are going up and African is already affected. If the Russian, Ukraine war situation persist, we are likely to see export curbs of commodities from producing countries and this will result prices further rising.”
John Basera, secretary of Agriculture did not respond to text message seeking comment.
Zimbabwe, like many other African countries are bearing the biggest brunt of climate change causing recurring droughts and threatening food production and security.
Water experts say it was high time Zimbabwe focus on reviving and developing new irrigation infrastructure facilities. It is estimated that only 5 percent of the crop-land in Zimbabwe is irrigated.
Given the substantial declines in agricultural output in the past decade, and lack of funding for maintenance of infrastructure, it is very likely that the area of crop-land that is currently under irrigation has declined from the 2002 level, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB).
“With only 20 percent of renewable water available each year being utilized, it is clear that there is substantial scope for increased investment in infrastructure to store and transport water,” AfBB said in its Zimbabwe Infrastructure Report 2019.
Zimbabwe has about 8 000 dams, with nearly 1 000 constructed by the Government.
Most of the 1,350 privately owned dams are small. “We need irrigation around these water bodies if we to counter the adverse effects of climate change,” said one water expert with an international Non-Governmental Organisation operating locally.