PRODUCER prices of key crops in our country are world-beating.
At $32 000 per tonne, this year’s maize producer price is equivalent to US$368/tonne while that of traditional grains at $38 000/tonne is US$437/tonne. A sugar bean farmer earns a staggering $90 000/tonne or US$1 035/tonne with one producing sesame seeds is banking $70 000/tonne or US$805/tonne. Groundnuts pay $40 000/tonne (US$460/tonne), the same as sunflower; roundnuts $50 000/tonne or US$575/tonne, popcorn $42 000/tonne or US$483/tonne and cow peas $32 500 equivalent to US$373/tonne.
By comparison, a maize grower in South Africa earns about R3 586 or US$239 per tonne while his or her counterpart in Zambia is paid the equivalent of US$165/tonne.
This means that farmers in our country earn on average far higher for their harvests than their counterparts in South Africa and Zambia, which, like our country, have competitive crop production systems. It has to be acknowledged that many more factors influence the viability of farming — the cost of inputs, availability of electricity and so on — but given that the bulk of local growers benefit from Government-subsidised input schemes, one can reasonably argue that the Zimbabwean farmer gets some of the region’s richest rewards for their work.
With wheat harvesting starting this week, the Government on Tuesday announced the floor prices for the strategic crop. Consistent with the national agenda of encouraging farmers to work hard, we feel that at $55 517,69/tonne or US$638/tonne for ordinary grade wheat and $66 621,22/tonne or US$766/tonne for premium grade wheat, the producer prices are immensely attractive, just like those for other key crops — maize, traditional grains, sugar beans and sunflower.
Comparatively, a wheat grower in South Africa earns an equivalent of US$383/tonne while in Zambia, a tonne of the cereal paid a farmer US$450/tonne in March.
Thanks to the attractive wheat producer price, adequate preparations ahead of the planting season, availability of electricity for irrigation and availability of dammed water following a bountiful 2020/2021 wet season, the country will be wheat self-sufficient until the next harvest around this time next year.
Zimbabwe, which already has 70 000 tonnes of the cereal in stock and needs 360 000 tonnes of it yearly, is anticipating to harvest more than 300 000 tonnes of wheat this year.
The time-tested agenda by the Government to stimulate local production by setting competitive producer prices is to be commended. Authorities are urged to keep on that path as that encourages farmers to work harder to produce, realising that there is money to be made in their work. Indeed, they know that working the soil will make the country food self-sufficient but at the same time, makes them richer.
The country has been spending much money since 2005 importing wheat to ensure that the people have enough bread and other wheat-based foods. As local farmers have been unable to grow enough wheat over the past 16 years, the Government has been shelling out US$100 million to finance wheat imports yearly. The spending was lower last year, when they harvested nine months’ supply of the cereal, enabling a national saving of US$60 million.
We hope that wheat output will continue rising into the future so that the fiscus saves on foreign currency spending on importation of the food crop. An attractive producer price as one announced by the Government on Tuesday will be important in stimulating the high production we encourage.
But, as we have noted earlier, a high producer price is, alone, not the magic bullet in boosting farm production.
As wheat is grown in winter in our country, we expect the Government to make sure electricity to facilitate irrigation is always available. In previous years, load shedding resulted in the crop wasting away in the fields. This was not the case this and last year as the Government has put in place measures to boost electricity availability, not only at wheat farms, but also across the country. We must continue on that path.
At their level, farmers can guarantee uninterrupted irrigation cycles if they invest in alternative energy sources such as solar systems. In the event that Zesa fails to provide electricity, they can immediately switch over to their solar systems to irrigate their wheat.
Commercially-grown wheat cannot be viably harvested manually as a majority of our farmers do with maize and traditional grains. Instead, a farmer needs a combine harvester to be able to reap it. The Government, has over the years, rolled out farm mechanisation programmes under which farmers bought combine harvesters, tractors and other machines on loan. This has been helpful. In more recent years, the private sector is being encouraged to play a role.
With wheat farmers starting to pick their crop this week, we look forward to efficient utilisation of available combine harvesters so that the crop is taken in before the onset of the summer rains in the next two months.
Maize producers have not complained of delayed payments since they started delivering the crop to the Grain Marketing Board around March this year. Expeditious payments that are being made for maize deliveries must be replicated on wheat. That way, the attractive producer prices announced on Tuesday will be more meaningful to wheat growers.