Govt re-activates energy taskforce for wheat season

Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement permanent secretary John Basera

GOVERNMENT has re-activated the Agriculture Energy Task Force to save winter wheat farmers from rolling blackouts, which have escalated in the past five months, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement permanent secretary John Basera told the Zimbabwe Independent this week.

Industries estimate that the power crisis could cost the economy up to US$4 billion this year. The taskforce is expected to coordinate strategies that will ensure adequate electricity supply during the winter wheat planting season, which ends on May 31.

Power cuts have turned into a perennial crisis for winter wheat farmers, which has threatened viability.

Wheat is mostly grown under irrigation, as the planting season coincides with the onset of Zimbabwe’s dry season.

To deal with the crisis, Basera said government set up the team, which consists of officials from the Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement and the Energy and Power Development ministries.

The country produced 375 131 metric tonnes (MT) of wheat during the 2022 season, 13% higher than the previous season’s 335 000MT, making Zimbabwe one of the only two African countries, which are currently wheat self-sufficient.

Zimbabwe targets to plant wheat under 85 000 hectares this year, and projects to produce over 408 000MT.

The national annual wheat requirement is 360 000MT, guaranteeing a monthly consumption of 30 000MT, according to statistics from the agriculture ministry.

“The planning for this coming winter season started in summer and quite a number of boxes has so far been green–ticked to guarantee success,” Basera said.

“The critical success factors to realise this endeavour is as follows; uninterrupted supply of electricity for irrigation. The Ministries of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development and the Ministry of Energy and Power Development have reactivated the agriculture energy task force to coordinate strategies to ensure electricity provision is adequate.

“Sufficient electricity will be ring-fenced to the wheat production clusters,” he said.

Basera said there was enough basal fertiliser to cover the targeted 85 000 hectares.

He said along with the reactivation of the wheat taskforce, the Zimbabwe dollar fuel facility provided by the State-run oil firm, Petrotrade and managed by the Agriculture Marketing Authority, would be expanded to wheat farmers.

“Funding for the 2023 winter wheat production season will be largely government facilitated and private sector led. The Bankers Association of Zimbabwe, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and Treasury have committed sufficient funds for the inputs,” he said.

“The government will fully fund the presidential winter wheat programme. Treasury will avail government guarantees for the national enhanced agriculture productivity scheme through the Agricultural Finance Corporation and CBZ Agro-Yield.

“In 2020, the government adopted a policy position as articulated in the agriculture recovery plan, that a pre-planting producer price be pronounced before the onset of a season,” Basera said.

In 2022, the area planted for wheat jumped 22% from 66 434 hectares in 2021 to 80 883 hectares. Wheat production output increased by 25% from over 300 000 metric tonnes in 2021 to 375 000 metric tonnes in 2022, against a national annual requirement of 360 000 metric tonnes, leaving a surplus of over 15 000 metric tonnes.

The country produced 13 months’ supply of wheat crop, which is a record since the beginning of wheat production in Zimbabwe in the 1960s.

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