Each year the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement conducts three national crop and livestock assessments. The first round report came out during the last week of February and was at an opportune time with the country facing serious challenges threatening economic stability and growth. Least of these challenges was the current global outbreak of the Covid-19 virus pandemic, itself coming on top of a recent devastation by the twin natural disasters namely drought and Cyclone Idai during the prior season of 2018/19.
The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the previous year contracted by 6,5 percent against an originally expected growth of 3,5 percent. It is therefore, imperative that, and as has been alluded by many players, the country focuses on those areas that can drive quick recovery for the economy.
Zimbabwe’s backbone for turnaround is centred on mining and agriculture. While mining is expected to buttress export growth, agriculture on the other hand is expected to reduce reliance on imported food. A good performance by both sectors is complementary with a positive impact by reducing pressure on the Balance of Payments (BOP) position and hence the exchange rate.
To this extent, we eagerly await the actual out turn of the season as harvesting and deliveries are currently underway with the tobacco selling season having commenced, albeit delayed due to the pandemic. Opening prices so far have been firm — averaging $5 per kilogramme. The agricultural sector has consistently contributed above 12 percent to GDP over the last five years and is therefore key to the turnaround of the economy. It is in this scope that the first round report was published and is hoped to be an indicator of how the sector will contribute to an economic turn around. The report highlights the following indicators, mostly showing a declining trend and therefore pausing a risk of a slowdown of the sector at a time the country needs growth towards the attainment of vision 2030:
Maize area planted, being the staple food crop decreased by 5 percent from 1 623 757 hectares to 1 549 324 hectares.
Due to delayed onset of rainfall, only about half — 652 008 hectares were planted in November with another 606 124 hectares in December and an additional 291 192 hectares in January.
Of the above, 113 365 hectares were planted under the social maize and soya bean programme, 11 507 hectares being under soya bean.
A total of 105 530 hectares were written off due to the late rains.
Small grains and traditional crops area increased backed by Government and Non-Governmental Organisation.
Tobacco area recorded a decrease of 6 percent from 106 558 hectares to 100 426 hectares while cotton area decreased 13 percent to 170 622 hectares from 197 242.
Soyabean land decreased 40 percent from 55 660 hectares to 33 599 hectares.
Other crops such as pulses and sweet potatoes were also delayed due to the late rains.
At the time of the report issued on February 24, 2020 the crop conditions were assessed to be generally fair to poor due to moisture stress. Subsequent rainfall pattern improved, however, and it is expected that ultimately the harvest season would show an improved situation.
The national herd declined by 4,7 percent to 5 489 364 with challenges arising from tick-bone disease and drought. Many farmers de-stocked and a total of over 66 000 herd succumbed to drought with the most affected provinces being Masvingo and Matabeleland. General body condition also ranged from fair to poor.
Milk production increased by 6 percent to 80 million litres with the dairy herd standing at 38 000. The sector was largely negatively affected by drought and tick-bone disease, especially theileriosis even though there was a decline in FMD infections.
The analysis above paints a rather precarious picture for a speedy recovery of the agro sector. A rigorous winter wheat programme has however, been rolled out and is expected to yield a significant output that will alleviate the need for imported supplementary food.
It has also been noted that the opening of the tobacco selling season has come with strong prices and to date, prices have averaged about $5 per kg. Should this trend continue to the end of the season, it is likely to cushion the downside impact of the reductions above.
The conclusion is that the outlook for the agricultural sector is subdued. The preparation and efficient distribution of inputs for the next season is therefore critical. The country is likely to continue relying on imported supplementary imports for a while until harvesting of the 2020/21 cropping season.