1302-2-1-SEED MAIZE 1Emilia Zindi and Lincoln Towindo

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Grain millers will in coming weeks import 600 000 tonnes of maize after getting Government approval to help supply food to drought-stricken districts.

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Government is mobilising funds for further imports, while it finishes a countrywide crop assessment to determine major deficit areas.

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Indications are that Masvingo, Matabeleland, Midlands and Manicaland are the worst affected provinces.

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Zimbabwe requires 1,8 million tonnes of maize yearly, but preliminary projections forecast a harvest of not more than one million tonnes.

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In March, authorities established that 500 000 of the two million hectares of land under maize were a write-off, with the low crop output attributed to prolonged dry spells precipitated by climate change.

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Mozambique, Namibia, Malawi, the DRC, South Africa and Botswana are reported to be in a similar situation and could turn to Zambia — one of the few countries in the region to produce surplus — for grain.

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South Africa, the region’s traditional food basket, has projected a 32 percent decline in its 2015 harvest; and 620 000 people in 17 of Malawi’s districts will require food relief due to flooding.

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Grain Millers’ Association of Zimbabwe chair Mr Tafadzwa Musarara told The Sunday Mail: “The imports from Zambia have already started coming in at US$240 per tonne, and these imports will be intensified around September after we mop up locally-produced maize.

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“So far, Government has not said anything about the total import requirement (or the food deficit), hence our initial figure of 600 000 tonnes.”

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Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Deputy Minister Davis Marapira said they had granted millers grain import approval following the strong indications of a deficit, adding that Government would first conclude its crop assessment and then consider its own interventions.

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“The amount of land under crops from the 2014/15 season stands at two million hectares, but 342 000 hectares of it was a write-off, according to last month’s estimates.

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‘‘As of this month, 500 000 (hectares) could be a write-off. We cannot speculate on the final outcome as a definitive conclusion will only be made once we complete crop assessment around April/May.

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“We can only start talking about importing grain after we establish the amount of grain we would have harvested. Nevertheless, we are looking at importing from Zambia. We have also looked at South Africa, Malawi, Namibia and Botswana, but they are all in more or less the same situation as ourselves.”

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Agronomists, however, advised Government to think deeply about early imports instead of waiting to complete the crop assessment.

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University of Zimbabwe agriculture economist Mr Obert Jiri said: “The situation is really bad because indications are at least half of the southern and western parts have been adversely affected.

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“If we are looking at a deficit of, say, one million tonnes and with the cost of grain averaging around US$300 per tonne, simple mathematics will show that Zimbabwe will need not less than US$300 million.

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“The problem with Government’s plan of mandating the private sector to import grain is that for starters, I have serious doubts that they can mobilise that sum. In addition, most affected households are in communal areas and cannot afford to buy maize from the private buyer.”

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Agronomist Mr Peter Gambara weighed in saying: “Farmers in parts of the Midlands, Manicaland, Masvingo and almost both Matabeleland provinces will harvest next to nothing. The yield per hectare has been adversely affected, and may drop from the traditional 7 000kg per hectare.”

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Zimbabwe — like the rest of Southern Africa — has suffered intermittent droughts, necessitating grain imports.

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In October 2014, the Meteorological Services Department said the country would receive rain later than usual and experience longer mid-season dry spells due to climate change.

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Climate change is a variation in weather pattern distribution over a sustained period and scientists believe it is caused by massive air pollution.

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In 2013, the United Nations’ Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change reported that scientists were “95 percent sure” human activity is causing climate change.

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The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 obliges all signatory states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but bickering between developing and developed countries over mitigatory responsibility continues to impede progress.

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Developed nations blame industrialised economies for large-scale pollution and want them to fund anti-pollution programmes.

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Southern Africa has over the years experienced bizarre weather conditions linked to the phenomenon.

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Malawi’s agriculture has been decimated with traditional farming hubs struggling to match previous production.

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Namibia also faced one of its worst droughts in 2013, which halved food production.

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Further, Mozambique continues to face constant threats of flooding and high temperatures.

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