·         Zimbabwe forecasts 58% maize harvest growth

·         Government revises GDP growth upwards

·         Commercial farmers outperform regional players on a yield/hectare basis

Harare - The breadbasket of a region is a country which, because of the richness of the soil and/or advantageous climate, produces large quantities of grain and other agricultural output. In a recent report from the government, the country’s economy is expected to expand by 6% in 2023, ahead of the 4% that was forecasted earlier, following an anticipated 58% growth in maize output for the 2022-23 season. However, a comparison with regional players shows that Zimbabwe is below average the comparable harvest per hectare in the region.

Zimbabwe is expected to harvest about 2,298,281 tonnes of maize in the 2022-23 season, which is a 58% growth from 1,453,031 tonnes harvested in the 2021-22 season. This unanticipated growth has necessitated a revision of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth from 4% to 6% by the government, despite a conservative view from the International Monetary Fund which has revised the GDP forecast downwards to 2.5%, from 2.8%. In the previous year, agriculture shrank by 14% which trimmed the forecasted economic growth. The government has also claimed that grain importation is not recommended in the next 12 months.

Despite the commendable performance in the 2022-23 season, a regional overview and comparison indicate that Zimbabwe is poorly performing compared to other countries in the agriculture space. The growth in the current season is attributed to good rainfalls compared to prior season. This is reflected by a 1% growth in the area planted, against a staggering growth in harvest and yield. However, the overall yield per hectare in Zimbabwe averaged 1.17t in the current season, up from 0.7t in the prior corresponding season. The “yield” refers to the amount of maize grown per hectare. In South Africa, the average maize yield tends to sail above 5t per hectare while Zambia and Kenya averages 2t per hectare and 1.5t per hectare respectively. A common obstacle to farming among the regional players is the unanticipated rise in fertilizer prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war which affected global supply chain disruptions. However, other hinderances specific to Zimbabwe include inflation and access to foreign currency for importation of production necessities.

The overall average yield per hectare in Zimbabwe, is however, negatively weighed by communal farmers who lack capital and capacity to improve operations. Despite efforts by other institutions which include CBZ to fund agriculture, latest official data shows that 60% of total food crop production is self-funded. Commercial farmers, who have the adequate capital, registered a commendable yield ranging from 4-18t per hectare, which is above regional average. However, the small players in the large-scale farming contribute relatively low to aggregate harvest as compared to other countries. Communal farmers in Zimbabwe recorded an average maize yield of 0.84t per hectare in the current season. Comparatively, South Africa’s maize is grown almost entirely by commercial farmers who have adequate capacity to expand and fully maximize operations and natural resources. This justifies the minimum yield of 5t per hectare, which could tally with Zimbabwe’s commercial farmers. In Zambia, close to 90% of maize is grown by communal farmers who recorded an average yield of 2t per hectare. However, this is due to heavy subsidies from the government which equips the smallholder farmers with enough resources to fund and ensure operations.

Comparing the impact of subsidies on harvests, the maize harvest from CBZ funding in Zimbabwe averaged a yield of 5t per hectare, while harvest from AFC funding averaged a yield of 6t per hectare. Compared to the 0.84t per hectare from other communal farmers in Zimbabwe, this is reflective of the impact of capital and resources on the success of agriculture. Total harvest from CBZ and AFC funded operations in Zimbabwe came in at 1.08 million tonnes, which is almost half of the aggregate harvest for the season. Pfumvudza farmers, who receive government subsidies, averaged a yield of 2.37t per hectare, which is above the average yield in Zambia. Therefore, if agriculture is adequately funded, the latest data proves that the country could outperform other regional players. However, in a bid to revert back to bread-basket status, the question is, should more resources be channeled to commercial farmers who have statistically proved to yield better than less equipped communal farmers. Subsidizing commercial farmers at the expense of small farmers has been a contentious issue for many years. While commercial farmers are often seen as the backbone of the agricultural industry, small farmers play an equally important role in providing food security and supporting local economies. The economic impact of subsidizing commercial farmers at the expense of small farmers is complex and multifaceted, with both positive and negative consequences.

One of the primary arguments in favor of subsidizing commercial farmers is that it helps to increase productivity and efficiency in the agricultural sector. By providing financial support to large-scale producers, governments can help them invest in new technologies, equipment, and infrastructure that can improve their yields and reduce their costs. This can lead to lower prices for consumers and increased profits for commercial farmers. However, this approach also has significant drawbacks. One major concern is that it can lead to a concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few large corporations or landowners. This can have negative consequences for rural communities, as small farmers may be forced out of business or unable to compete with larger producers who receive government subsidies.

Another concern is that subsidizing commercial farmers can lead to environmental degradation and unsustainable farming practices. Large-scale producers may prioritize short-term profits over long-term sustainability, leading to soil erosion, water pollution, and other environmental problems. Small farmers are often more attuned to local ecological conditions and may be better equipped to adopt sustainable farming practices. Finally, there is also a moral argument against subsidizing commercial farmers at the expense of small ones. Many people believe that all farmers should be treated equally by government policies, regardless of their size or scale of production. Subsidies that favor large-scale producers over smaller ones may be seen as unfair or unjust.

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