Cablegate: Zimbabwe Agricultural Outlook for 2002/03 Season

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. As of mid-November, rainfall has been slightly below
normal over most of the country. If the rains persist,
those farmers that have already planted could reap good
harvests. Although those farmers that have not yet planted
can still reap good harvests, they will have less
flexibility to adjust their planting strategies in response
to any adverse weather or other conditions. Generally, seed
availability is "patchy", depending on the type and location
of the demand. The recent increase in seed prices has also
reduced the amount of seed that farmers can afford. In
addition to seed availability, other constraints to
agricultural productivity include fuel, tillage and
fertilizer shortages, farm labor and financing constraints,
the developing El Nino in the Pacific, and a lack of market
incentives. While some commercial farmers have been able to
plant this year, large areas of prime farmland remain idle.
USAID/DCHA/OFDA supports several programs in Zimbabwe to
improve food security and expedite agricultural recovery,
but partner NGOs are also feeling the effects of the
shortages. Although still too early for accurate
projections, the consensus outlook is for another sub-
standard harvest in April 2003. The agriculture situation
in Zimbabwe needs constant monitoring as the final outcome
will determine the food security situation and additional
assistance needs for 2003. End Summary.


2. On October 4, the Government Meteorological Department
(MET) issued a slightly revised forecast for the 2002/03
season from the September Southern Africa Regional Climate
Outlook Forum (SARCOF) prediction. For the period October
2002 to December 2003, the revised MET forecast calls for
normal to below normal rainfall for the entire country (as
opposed to the earlier SARCOF forecast which split the
country into northern and southern sections, with slightly
more optimistic projections for the northern areas). From
January to March 2003, all forecasts also call for normal to
below normal rainfall throughout Zimbabwe. As of mid-
November, rainfall has been slightly below normal (80% of
average) over most of the country. If the rains persist,
those farmers that have already planted could reap good
harvests. Although those farmers that have not yet planted
can still reap good harvests, they will have less
flexibility to pursue more flexible planting strategies,
such as staggering crops, to better accommodate any adverse
weather or other conditions.

3. This situation becomes even more critical considering the
El Nino phenomenon developing in the Pacific Ocean which
generally has a strong effect on rainfall in southern
Africa. The most recent information suggests that this is
likely to develop into a moderate event during the latter
part of this year, which could result in sub-normal rainfall
and agricultural drought in certain parts of the country.

Seed Security

4. Following several successive years of adverse conditions,
most small-scale farmers have not been able to maintain
adequate seed stocks, forcing many to turn to the market for
purchase of these essential inputs. Generally, seed
availability varies with type and location. While good
quantities of maize seed are still available, sorghum,
millet, soyabean, and groundnut seed have been sold out by
most major suppliers. However, limited quantities of these
seeds are still available in smaller towns in rural areas,
as evidenced at recent Catholic Relief Services (CRS) seed
fairs. Even with access to seed, the recent increase in
seed prices - from 120 to more than 300 percent - has
reduced the amount of seed that farmers can afford. The
Government of Zimbabwe (GOZ) and the relief community are
left to try to make up the deficit.
5. The government has purchased large quantities of seed for
delivery to small-scale and resettled farmers. Reports
indicate government purchases of 25,000 Metric Tons (MT) of
maize seed to date. However, even government admits to
significant supply shortages, and having to seek additional
requirements from external sources. Combined donor-
assistance via the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization
(FAO) and NGOs funded by bilateral donors totals 5,983 MT of
maize seed, 2,829 MT of small grains (sorghum/millet) and
1,415 MT of cowpeas seed for some 615,000 beneficiary farmer
households to date. Although it is still too early for any
accurate estimates, the total maize seed purchased to date
(approximately 45,000 MT) is estimated to be able to plant
an area of about 1.6 million hectares. At an estimated
yield of 0.6 to 0.8 Metric Tons (MT) per hectare, this would
yield between 960,000 and 1,280,000 MT of maize, about 50 to
70 percent of the national requirement (1.8 million MT).
The relatively low yield factor is based on a variety of
additional production constraints discussed below.

OFDA Partner Programs
6. OFDA supports several programs in commercial farming
areas of Zimbabwe, but not in areas of resettlement, to
improve food security and expedite agricultural recovery.
Current OFDA-supported agricultural recovery programs,
totaling approximately USD 1.6 million, provide for the
provision of mixed seed baskets (maize, sorghum/millet,
cowpeas, etc.) to some 200,000 beneficiary farmer households
by the NGOs CARE, World Vision and CRS. CARE has managed to
secure all of the seed required for its program and is in
the process of transporting it to its distribution end-
points. World Vision is seeking sorghum and cowpea seed
imports from Botswana and South Africa, but has encountered
delays due to new GOZ requirements for certification that
imported seed is bio-tech free. CRS has just completed its
seed fair program, where small-scale farmers use vouchers to
purchase seed and other inputs from local and commercial
seed vendors. All the NGOs have reported difficulties in
obtaining adequate fertilizer (which is not eligible for
funding under USG-financed interventions), as have NGOs in
neighboring countries.

Production Constraints

7. With delays in oil supply deals and the broader economic
downturn, fuel shortages are now recurring throughout the
country. Long queues and stock-outs at gasoline stations
are becoming commonplace. This has begun to impact on
transportation costs in all sectors of the economy,
including especially the agricultural sector. At a recent
seed fair, several seed vendors and a local NGO helping to
conduct the fair were late or didn't show up at all because
of the lack of fuel. Even with access to inputs and the
capability to plant, commercial farmers are not able to
maximize their production potential because of the
increasing cost of operating their farm equipment. Within
the smallholder and resettlement sectors, livestock de-
stocking and disease outbreaks (principally foot-and-mouth
disease) have significantly reduced draught power available
for land preparation activities. Expected support from
government District Development Fund (DDF) tractors is
similarly hampered, with more than half of the DDF tractor
fleet disabled due to lack of spare parts and fuel supplies.

8. Other constraints to agricultural production include
fertilizer shortages, farm labor and credit constraints,
pests, and market disincentives. Low soil fertility in
small-scale farming areas needs to be improved by manure
and/or fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers are in short
supply due to lack of foreign exchange to pay for imported
components. Presently, it is estimated that only 50 percent
of the requirements are being met. Even NGOs, which paid
for fertilizer for their assistance programs weeks ago,
report having to wait for it to become available as the
planting "window" passes. Moreover, like seeds and fuel,
recent increases in the price of fertilizer have also
reduced access by many cash-strapped small-scale farmers.

9. In addition to the tillage constraints noted above, farm
labor is in short supply due both to the upheavals created
by the resettlement program and the ravages of the HIV/AIDS
pandemic. Somewhat ironically, the Minister of Social
Welfare (July Moyo) acknowledged a lack of skilled farm
labor (presumably for new "model A2"/commercial resettled
farmers) in a recent meeting with visiting U.S. General
Accounting Office (GAO) officials. And, the impact of the
HIV/AIDS pandemic is well documented, with an estimated
800,000 orphans and many more child- and elderly-headed
households no longer able to meet the physical rigors of
agricultural cultivation without assistance this year.

10. The lack of economic incentive to grow maize for
commercial markets, resulting from GOZ price controls on
major food crops, will also inhibit production. Financing
for agricultural production is also limited, as banks are
hesitant to extend credit to farms under the threat of
seizure and, in the case of the newly resettled farmers, to
those who do not possess clear title to land. And, finally,
trans-border migratory pests (e.g., armyworms and locusts),
which tend to be worse following a drought, may also pose
additional problems for agricultural production this year.

Commercial Farms

11. A limited number of the commercial farmers who have
managed to maintain possession of their farms have been able
to plant this year. Evidence of this is visible along some
of Zimbabwe's major roadways, where maize crops planted in
early October are now knee-high. Commercial farm plantings
observed by OFDA include maize, wheat and tobacco. However,
this productive use of commercial farmland is not
widespread, with large areas of idle land prevalent
throughout the prime agricultural areas of the country. An
estimated 600 large commercial farmers have remained on the
land and could plant this year; however, given continuing
insecurity and other constraints, it remains unclear how
many will actually do so. Even on those commercial farms
that can plant, escalating fuel and seed costs, low producer
prices and continuing security risks will likely limit the
areas planted to major/controlled food crops. As a result,
we can expect a continued slide in production this season in
this sub-sector.

12. Similarly, crop production on resettled commercial farms
is also expected to be low this year, as many resettled
farmers have yet to take up their newly acquired properties
and/or await finalization of proper "ownership"
documentation. In addition, due to the constraints noted
above, most resettled farmers do not have the resources to
work these properties (many of which have been previously
used as grazing land for livestock and, therefore, require
extensive inputs for preparation for crop cultivation), at
the same level as the prior commercial owners. For example,
one former commercial farmer interviewed by OFDA reported
that the settlers who took over his farm last year were only
able to produce 11 tons on the same area that usually
produced more than 100 tons of maize.

13. Although pastures are generally good, livestock herds
have been decimated due to the commercial farm seizures. It
is reported that the commercial herd has been reduced by two-
thirds from 1.2 million to 400,000 over the past several
years. The resettlement chaos has also resulted in
significant additional losses in livestock and wildlife due
to increased theft, poaching and disease outbreaks (e.g.,
foot-and-mouth, anthrax). The significant reduction in
livestock herds will have a dramatic impact on the
availability of meat and dairy products, which is already
beginning to be felt.
Conclusions and Recommendations

14. Although it is still early in the season for any
accurate predictions, Zimbabwe's agricultural outlook is
mixed at best, and much will depend on the adequacy and
distribution of rainfall in the coming months. However,
even with sufficient rainfall the prospects for an adequate
season are poor, given the plethora of land, fuel, tillage,
labor, market, input and other production constraints noted
above. The relief community is trying to fill the gaps, but
even with the means, the shortages throughout the country
are making this extremely difficult. The net result is
another sub-standard harvest expected in April 2003.

15. The agricultural situation in Zimbabwe needs constant
monitoring as the outcome will determine the food security
situation and additional assistance needs for 2003. The
agricultural recovery process should be expedited, and
contingency plans for planting alternative crops put in
place. Due to the difficulties of procuring seed - a
situation which is expected to worsen considerably next year
as a result of the effects of the resettlement program -
NGOs should develop their plans and begin joint preparations
for next season's agricultural requirements now. Sullivan

© Scoop Media

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