HEAVY rains falling in Manicaland have put up to half of the province’s wheat production at risk of quality downgrades, as prolonged moisture and harvesting could damage yields. A fall in grain quality means less returns on investment. Wheat is sensitive to moisture and the repeated rains and resultant excess humidity could prevent farmers from the country’s second largest grain producing region from harvesting at least 1500 hectares of late planted wheat.
This spells disaster for the farmers, most of whom were contracted under Command Agriculture as wet conditions reduce the baking quality of wheat and could lead to problems with mycotoxins, which are toxic compounds produced when grain moulds. The harvested commodity is supposed to be purchased by the Government through the Grain Marketing Board. The affected hectarage is at risk of fusarium which affects wheat ears.
Fusarium is a group of fungi that produce mycotoxins. Provincial Agritex Officer for Manicaland Mrs Phillipa Rwambiwa on Wednesday said the extent of the damage was still being assessed, while admitting that wet weather and delays in harvesting will further increase the risk.
“We have wheat which was affected by rains, and this presents threats to quality. It compromises the baking quality of the crop. It not clear if GMB will buy it, but livestock feed producers will be an alternative market. The rains have already affected some areas of cultivated land, and only when it dries that farmers can start harvesting, but the baking quality would have been compromised,” said Mrs Rwambiwa.
Mrs Rwambiwa said the major contributing factors were late planting and shortage of combine harvesters.
“The critical shortage of combine harvesters remains a headache for most farmers at risk of losing the bulk of their good yields to the rains,” said Mrs Rwambiwa.
Manicaland planted 3 533ha up from less than 800ha planted last year. At its peak of production Manicaland used to record an excess of 9000ha, with the Middle Sabi region alone accounting for about 5 000ha.Traditionally May 15 is the deadline for wheat planting but some farmers planted till end of June. So far an average of 60mm of rainfall has so far been received in Manicaland. Middile Sabi Farmers’ Association chairperson Mr Skumbuzo Todhlana bemoaned the wet spell.
He said wheat farmers in Middle Sabi faced many challenges. “The rains have destroyed at least 500ha of wheat, and the hectarage is set to increase with the intensity of the rains because we still have an outstanding hectarage of about 1 500ha. This season’s crop faced a multiplicity of threats, chief among them the rains, and invasion by swarms of Quelea birds and lack of harvesting equipment,” said Mr Tondhlana.
He said about 500ha was destroyed in Chipangayi by heavy rains recorded in Chipinge this week. Middle Sabi farmers were expecting an average yield of four tonnes per hectare. Mr Bennet Hlahla, of Farm 9, Middle Sabi said his crop was a write off.
“It’s a complete write-off. Nothing can be salvaged. There are no combine harvesters, and if there is any remnant wheat, I will use the traditional sickle harvesting method,” said Mr Hlahla.
Mr Harrison Mutare, of Farm 44, Middle Sabi described the situation as disastrous.
“It’s catastrophic. I had 20ha, of which eight hectares were destroyed by Quelea birds and the balance is now rain soaked. About six hectares is now beyond harvestable state. All hopes of a wheat bumper harvest are gone. The rains might have triggered a hive of activity at farms, but for us it’s a total disaster. It is a sad story as we might fail to salvage the cereal crop,” said Mr Mutare.
The farmers appealed to Government to urgently intervene and assist farmers to save the wheat crop. The country is expecting a bumper wheat harvest of about 200 000 tonnes as compared to estimated 60 000 tonnes achieved in the previous years, a move likely to marginally cut the import bill.