Country Focus: Zimbabwe

by Chris Lyddon
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Agriculture is vitally important to Zimbabwe’s economy, but it struggles with challenges created by the country’s wider economic problems and has been hit hard by southern Africa’s drought. It means a traditional grain importer is an even bigger importer now.

The International Grains Council (IGC) projects Zimbabwe’s 2016-17 maize (corn) production at 400,000 tonnes, down from 700,000 the year before. It forecasts the country’s total grains imports at 1.1 million tonnes in 2016-17

The USDA attaché in Pretoria explained the drop. “Zimbabwe experienced one of its driest seasons since the 1992-93 season, due to a strong El-Niño-induced drought,” an annual report on the grains sector in Zimbabwe said. “As a result, corn production in the 2016-17 market year (MY) declined by an estimated 43%.”

The report sees imports higher than the IGC’s forecast. “Zimbabwe will have to import an estimated 1.4 million tonnes of corn in the 2016-17 MY to meet the production shortfall,” it said.

The attaché explained that wheat production is on a declining trend.

“Prospects for wheat production in Zimbabwe are also gloomy and production in the 2016-17 MY is estimated to reach only about 16,000 tonnes. Hence, Zimbabwe’s wheat imports are forecast to reach about 280,000 tonnes in 2016-17 MY.”

Explaining why the maize crop is down so sharply, the attaché said, “The most affected areas by the drought were parts of the Midlands, Masvingo, the southern parts of Manicaland provinces, as well as the provinces of Matabeleland North and South. These areas had high rates of corn crop failure of more than 65%.

“Consequently, effective from Feb. 3, 2016, the Zimbabwe government declared the 2015-16 farming season a ‘state of disaster,’” the report said. “The 2016-17 MY El-Niño-induced drought is the second consecutive dry season in Zimbabwe after the drought of the 2015-16 MY. Corn production in the 2015-16 MY declined by 52% to 700,000 tonnes, due to last year’s drought, that was particularly severe in the south of the country.”

Agricultural inputs (corn seed, fertilizers and agro-chemicals) were abundantly available on the market, the attaché said.

“However, only about 40% of the 360,000 tonnes of locally produced fertilizer was taken up because of the low corn area planted,” it said.

The Zimbabwean government policy on Genetically Engineered (GE) corn has not changed, the attaché’s annual report said. Cultivation of GE corn is prohibited, but GE corn for consumption can be imported as long it is milled into meal under government supervision.

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture 

The attaché explained that maize imports into Zimbabwe have come from its neighbors, South Africa, Zambia and Malawi, but that they’ve also had reduced harvests because of the same weather problem and don’t have the maize to export.

“The Zimbabwe government and the private sector are targeting corn imports mainly from Mexico, the United States, Ukraine, Brazil and Argentina, of approximately 1.4 million tonnes,” the report said. “The Zimbabwean government is expected to import about 700,000 tonnes, while the private sector will import the balance. Zimbabwe will import both GE and non-GE corn for human consumption.”

This creates a logistical headache, the attaché said. “The unprecedented level of grain imports by Zimbabwe and other southern African countries of an estimated record of 6.2 million tonnes of corn and an additional 5 million tonnes of other grains will put pressure on the ports,” the attaché said. “Zimbabwe, in addition to the South African ports, plans to use the Mozambican ports of Maputo and Beira.”