Zimbabwe’s agricultural growth more muscle than productivity

Zimbabwe’s agriculture is likely to grow by 19.3 percent this year but productivity levels for key crops like the staple maize and wheat have declined sharply.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti said maize output increased by 9 percent from 1.3 million tonnes in 2010 to 1.45 million tonnes this year. But he lamented that the productivity level for maize was appalling. Current yields were a mere 0.7 tonnes per hectare way below international yields of 8-12 tonnes per hectare.

This was probably because most of the maize was produced by communal farmers who contributed 43 percent of the output. Commercial farmers only accounted for 4 percent. One of the major reasons commercial farmers may be shying from the crop is the poor producer price.

The same applied to wheat where yields are around 3 tonnes to a hectare down from 5.4 tonnes a hectare in 2000 and way below international yields of 8 tonnes a hectare.

Wheat production is being affected by lack of infrastructure and power supplies. The country had targeted to produce 130 000 tonnes of wheat this year but output is expected to be only 42 000 tonnes.

The effect of good producer prices is shown in the growth of the tobacco sector. Two years ago output was down to 58 million kgs. But it increased to 123 million kgs last year and is expected to increase to 170 million kgs this year.

Biti said production is likely to improve because more farmers are expected to join the sector because of viable prices.

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