I have often stated that when people think about agriculture in this
the world they must take into account the huge mean variation that
here in rainfall from one year to the next. We suffer from a mean
in precipitation of about 40 per cent - one of the highest in the
much of the Midwest of the USA for example, the same calculation brings
mean variation of about 5 per cent.
What this means is that you can never be sure of just how much rainfall
are going to get, and more particularly, how it is going to fall. Most
Zimbabwe gets between 450 and 850 millimeters of rain a year - mainly
between the 15th of November and the end of March. In this period of
145 days we have to grow whatever we need to live on for the rest of
year or store water so that we can extend the growing period with
I live in the south of the country and we generally consider that three
years stored water is about enough to carry us through a difficult
present we have about 30 months supply of water in the dams that serve
Bulawayo - not bad by recent standards, but not enough.
Right now we are well into the traditional wet season and in
have had about two weeks of actual wet weather. Our rivers have run
a couple of weeks and are now dry again. It is unseasonably hot and
reducing the effectiveness of any small rainfalls.
Normally we say that crops must be in the ground by the 15th of
Research shows that after this date the maize crop will loose about 5
cent of its potential yield every week. The reason being daylight
temperature and rainfall. Other crops can be planted much later and
into the New Year but only if the growth cycle is very short.
What are the prospects so far in the current season in Zimbabwe? Not
good I am afraid and the situation is deteriorating daily. The reasons
quite simple: -
1. The crop was planted very late due to shortages of
about every input item that is involved, from financing to fertilizer.
particular importance is that seed of the specific varieties needed was
short supply - actually, was not obtainable in many cases.
2. The area under cultivation is tiny - even in the
Communal Lands. The reasons for this are not hard to see. On commercial
farms there is simply no security for anyone and nobody is doing much
subsistence. In the Communal areas the shortage of manpower for
and other heavy tasks is a major problem. If your breadwinner lives in
Johannesburg he cannot come home to plough as he might have done in the
3. Germination rains have been very poor and the
hot dry weather is doing a lot of damage - in many cases we are seeing
total write off of the crop in the ground. The situation is especially
in the south and east of the country. The northwest and the Gokwe area
to be a bit better but not much.
Conditions are in fact much worse than last year and people are saying
do not even have any prospect for green vegetables or maize in mid
Hunger looms over thousands of homes throughout the country.
In South Africa a similar crisis is developing and they have scaled
estimates of their maize crop to 5 million tonnes - half of last years
on a similar area under cultivation. Bad news for South Africa and the
region as a whole as we have used South Africa as a backstop for maize
supplies in recent years. Just this past week I saw a trainload of 37
grain wagons on the rail line to Bulawayo.
A similar picture is emerging for other key sectors. Cotton normally
dry periods better and has a much longer growing season. The tobacco
declining in potential as commercial growers are still being
the Government and the new growers struggle with a myriad of problems
inexperience. I personally would think that we will be lucky to get a
of 60 000 tonnes this year - less than last year and only a third of
"official" estimates. As for the maize crop - if we grew 700 000 tonnes
year, I cannot see us growing anything like that this year, conditions
This is of course exactly what Mugabe wanted - and the timing of the
election in March this year is absolutely spot-on. Elections will hit
communities across the land at a time when food stocks and availability
be at their lowest level of the year. Zanu will control all basic food
supplies and will use this power to coerce communities to vote for
There is little the MDC can do to change this situation. We cannot even
explain to the people what is happening.
How did the old system overcome these problems in the past? Well for a
the commercial tobacco farmers used to plant about 125 000 hectares of
tobacco and then to grow maize as a following crop to pick up
residues. This made tobacco growers an important source of maize -
about 600 000 tonnes in a poor year and more in a good year.
It was estimated that the original 6000 commercial farmers could
if required, up to 268 000 hectares of land. This meant that if water
available in farm dams and rivers, farmers could plant early (the best
yields of both tobacco and maize are with crops planted in October) and
a hot dry spell struck - like now, they could put a couple of inches of
water on their lands. This would save the crop and enable the
farmers to produce something when others saw their crops fail. Average
yields on commercial farms were very high - 2000 kgs per hectare of
and 6 tonnes of maize were common.
All of this has gone - swept away by a tide of reckless, politically
hooliganism. Now we face the elements without a safety net and the
consequences for all our people are dire. Mugabe's proud boast of a
harvest has been swept away by a tide of new data. His prediction of a
per cent recovery in agricultural output this summer now looks more
another year of hunger and a still further decline in total output. But
puts a new weapon in his hands, and after all - that is what counts
Zanu PF. The welfare of the people is the last thing on their mind.
Bulawayo 5th January 2005