Shortage of maize seed could affect next harvest

With normal to above normal rains expected for the coming season, the shortage of maize seed could adversely affect next year's harvest. This could be worsened by the shortage of tractors, spare parts and increased costs of preparing land, the latest report from the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS Net) says.

It says seed houses only had 21 650 tonnes of seed with an additional 4 800 tonnes of open pollinated maize seed and another 5 000 available for import.

Only four of the 49 districts surveyed had enough seed. It says if all the seed was distributed to "true farmers" and replanting was kept to a minimum, the seed could be put on 1.3 million hectares.

But given the experience of last year when 47 000 tonnes of maize was planted on 1.2 million hectares, this was too optimistic.

FEWS says since new inexperienced farmers and communal farmers have replaced experienced and well resourced large scale commercial farmers, national average yields could be between 880 and 980kgs per hectare translating to a crop harvest of at most 1.2 million tones of maize. This would leave a shortfall of 600 000 tonnes.

The USAID funded agency says an estimated 2.7 million people in rural areas were expected to need food assistance by the end of September.

The World Food Programme which is coordinating the food distribution programme in the country had managed to meet about 27 percent of the estimated food requirements, increasing this to a peak of 42 percent. It had covered 44 of the 57 districts.

The situation was also critical in urban areas especially among the poor. The breadbasket stood at $271 300 in August. It had been increasing by 12 percent a month between November and March but had shot up by an average of 20 percent a month since.

The current minimum wage is $47 695 which means that the cost of living is five times higher than the minimum wage.

So far only 80 000 tonnes of cereals, 30 000 of wheat and 50 000 tonnes of rice have been imported. They have reduced the total cereal gap from 818 464 to 739 464 tonnes of which 671 424 is maize.

If the outstanding imports of 295 660 tones are brought into the country, the total cereal gap will be 443 000 tonnes. `

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