May 30, 2006

Zimbabwe declares potatoes strategic crop / Gold production plummets

Zimbabwe, which has faced successive years of poor maize harvests, has declared potatoes a "strategic crop" to ensure food security, state radio has reported. The declaration comes despite assurances by the country’s agriculture minister that the country would that year harvest the national requirement of 1.8 million tonnes of the staple maize. "The government has declared the Irish potato a strategic crop following the realisation that the country cannot continue depending on maize alone for its food security," the radio said. Potatoes are generally available in Zimbabwe, but are much more expensive than the staple maize meal. Potatoes cost around 200 000 Zimbabwe dollars per kilogramme, while 10 kilogramme of maize meal, where available, also costs just under 200 000 Zimbabwe dollars. The radio quoted Shadreck Mlambo, the director of the Department of Agricultural Research and Extension Services as saying the government wants to see 30 000 hectares of potatoes planted and harvests undertaken three times a year. "Dr Mlambo says many resettled farmers are keen on embarking on Irish potato farming, a development that could see the country’s food security receiving a major boost," it said. Mlambo said potatoes were suited to farming districts in eastern Zimbabwe.

In a different context, the chamber of mines has announced that gold production dropped by a third during the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year. Zimbabwe's mines produced 2.903kg of gold between January and March of this year compared to 4.268kg for the same period in 2005, said David Matyanga, chief economist of the chamber of mines. He further explained, "The 32% decline is attributed to two main factors. One is that surface ore mining has been exhausted which means many small miners have to resort to hard rock mining, but many of them do not have the capacity. The other reason is that the skewed exchange rate has seen smaller miners not declaring their production, although we cannot confirm if the gold is finding its way into the black market." Gold miners must sell 60% of their production at the official foreign exchange rate. "At the current level of production it means that by year end, Zimbabwe will produce 11.600kg against a projected target of 30.000kg." In 2005, gold production dropped to 14.000kg, down from 21.300kg in 2004. Gold is one Zimbabwe's major hard currency earners but the mining sector has been hamstrung by forex shortages to renew equipment and supplies. Shortages of cyanide, drill steel and compressor spares have also hampered production. (News24, South Africa)

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