ZIMBABWE – Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe (THZ) has availed 2 000 hectares for this year’s food initiative that will for the first time also cover traditional grains.

This comes as the provincial leadership of Lowveld, south-eastern Zimbabwe has appealed to sugar cane farmers with fallow irrigable land to commit at least one hectare towards the winter maize project and get inputs support from Government under the Command Agriculture initiative, reports the Herald.

The response from Lowveld cane farmers willing to contribute in reviving the country’s food security by also growing maize has been encouraging, according to senior officials in Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution Cde Ezra Chadzamira’s office.

Traditional winter farming in Chiredzi was restricted to maize to ease the effects of recurrent droughts in Masvingo province, but this year Masvingo Development Trust (MDT), which initiated the project, wants to expand into growing of sorghum and sunflower seed.

The decision to venture into sorghum and sunflower seed production dovetails with Government’s thrust for a shift to traditional grains, which are drought tolerant.

Since inception of the project, Tongaat has been availing an average 300ha for winter maize but this year Tongaat agreed to increase land available for winter farming after identifying additional idle land in Chiredzi and Mwenezi sugar plantations.

Besides an almost seven-fold increase in the hectarage availed by Tongaat for the project, sugar cane farmers were also being roped into the food initiative.

“We are happy that for the first time Tongaat has given us 2 000ha in Chiredzi and Mwenezi for winter farming operations this year, which is a very crucial intervention in our quest to achieve food security in Masvingo following two successive years of drought,” said Minister Chadzamira.

“As MDT we agreed that while the bulk of the land from Tongaat will go towards winter maize, a significant amount of the land will be put under sunflower and sorghum seed so that we become the national hub of traditional grains seed in the country and support Government’s thrust to shift towards traditional grains, which are drought tolerant.”

Minister Chadzamira said winter farming operations will get into full swing after relaxation of lockdown rules, which require people to practise social distancing to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“We are very encouraged by the response and quite a good number of farmers are willing to diversify their crop portfolio, while there is also a sweetener that these farmers will not do it for free, but will get inputs support under the Command Agriculture programme while there will also be a ready market for their produce,” he said.

Last year’s winter maize crop, which was only harvested in late January this year because of a prolonged wet spell, yielded 1 186 tonnes of grain from the 327ha planted.