Much attention has focused lately on the rising prices of farm inputs in the build-up to the 2019–2020 agricultural season. Key crop input prices are rising and show no sign of slowing. Our Agric, Environment and Innovations Editor Sifelani Tsiko (ST) speaks to a researcher at the UZ Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension in the Faculty of Agriculture, Dr Tafireyi Chamboko (TC) on the rising cost of farm inputs and the growing call for Government to intervene and support farmers through the Command Agriculture programme.
ST: Zimbabwe’s inflation has soared to its highest level in a decade. Prices of critical agricultural inputs have gone up. What is the current cost of inputs per hectare now? What are the main inputs required for one hectare?
TC: Zimbabwe produces a number of crops. In terms of what is the current inputs costs per hectare, this has to be specific to the crop of interest. The main inputs required for one hectare would vary by each specific crop. In general terms, the main inputs besides land preparation (ploughing and discing) that have to be done before planting, include seeds, fertilizers (basal and top dressing), agricultural lime, crop chemicals (herbicides and insecticides), labour for performing all the operations, transport, and the cost of irrigation and electricity where these facilities are available. Once the crop is fully matured, input cost includes your harvesting and packaging for the market and marketing the crop. For example, according to current Agritex crop production budgets (2019) one requires ZWL$7 362/ha to produce a hectare of white maize targeting a yield of 8 metric tonnes per ha.
ST: Given the rising cost of agricultural inputs – what could be the implication of this on (a) smallholder farmers and (b) commercial farmers?
TC: The implication of the rising cost of agricultural inputs on smallholder farmers is that there will be reduced hectarage planted by farmers in light of the high cost of inputs and lack of access to finance. The same implication in terms of reduced hectarage planted will be observed for commercial farmers as well.
ST: How best can Government intervene to help farmers to grow crops this coming season?
TC: Government has already been intervening and helping farmers through the Command Agriculture and the Presidential Inputs scheme targeting mainly the staple maize crop. Government may need to review these programmes in terms of its targeting mechanisms. The extension personnel need to take a lead in identifying productive farmers so that the disbursed inputs are put to productive use.
ST: What can farmers do on their own to ensure they can at least grow something this season?
TC: Farmers have limited options given the cost of finance. Yes, farmers can borrow if they are able to, but the questions arise whether given the annual rate of inflation farmers would be able to market and pay back the loans. Those farmers with relatives in the Diaspora can use the remittance to at least grow something. Usually such type of finance is targeted for growing the staple commodities to ensure food security for the household. Those farmers who were lucky to produce a crop in the last season and were able to sell some surplus can allocate part of the proceeds to produce another crop for the next season although given the current costs of inputs, this would be much reduced hectarage. Farmers need to consider the option of contract farming for crops that are grown under contract farming arrangements. In the commercial farming areas, some farmers have been considering partnerships as one of the alternatives to secure funding but these have to be registered with the Ministry of Agriculture.
ST: What is your general comment on rising input cost and preparations for the coming cropping season?
TC: My general comment is that there is going to be a reduction in the area planted unless more alternative sources of finance for the generality of farmers (both smallholder and commercial) is made available through the open market.