by Tichaona Chifamba
HARARE, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- Zimbabwean farmers are facing a gloomy season with unfavorable weather conditions forecast for the planting season, compounded by a massive hike in seed prices.
Zimbabwe is one of 25 high-risk countries to be adversely affected by El Nino and is expected to receive normal to below-normal rainfall from October to March, while maize seed producers have more than trebled their prices.
A bag of maize seed, which was selling for 25 U.S. dollars last season, is now going for 100 dollars while a 25 kg bag is being sold for about 250 dollars, up from 70 dollars, according to a price list published last week by one of the major seed producers.
The producers did not give reasons for the massive hike, but prices of basic commodities have been going up of late, with producers citing a shortage of foreign currency and high rates of exchange on the black market.
The situation has left many farmers, especially small-scale ones, wondering whether they should grow maize in the coming season or simply wait to buy grain next year as there are fears that the prices of other inputs such as fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides will also go up.
Some are considering using some of the grain they harvested last season as seed but are not sure of the yields.
"I will definitely not buy seed this year. I have no choice when it comes to fertilizers but I will use cow dung instead of basal fertilizer, even though I know that I will have to work extra hard weeding the fields because dung usually carries a lot of weed seed," small farmer Emmanuel Tigere told Xinhua.
Industry and Commerce Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu condemned the increases, saying that there was no justification for producers to raise prices.
"The price increases are absolutely not justified. We are worried... as it comes at a time that our farmers are preparing to go back to till their land," he told the state-run Herald newspaper.
Ndlovu said the government would engage the seed producers over the matter.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union executive director Paul Zakaria said farmers would in turn push for a rise in the producer price if the seed prices are left where they were.
"If these prices are not controlled, farmers will downsize their production because of unaffordable costs of inputs. This will obviously affect production. There is, therefore, need for a social contract between government, business and consumers," he told a press conference.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Wonder Chabikwa also said that farmers are not happy with the new prices.
"It is a huge shock for the farmers," he said.