The World Cup and farming – optimism reigns

It’s raining here in Westlock! And high time. Crops were starting to show heat stress, some canola looked that dull blue. My family up in the Peace Country of B.C. is jealous. They haven’t had rain for weeks, with some days at over 30 degrees Celsius.

Mkushi: loading last year's wheat as the new wheat is being planted. Sales are slow. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Mkushi: loading last year's wheat as the new wheat is being planted. Sales are slow. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

At the same time newspapers show front page pictures of western Canadian farms and towns under water and people using canoes for transport.

The Soccer World Cup in South Africa is over. We watched the last game at our Dutch neighbours’. There was no cheering there!

I wonder if Africa’s hopes that the World Cup would bring more unity and peace, especially to South Africa itself, will be fulfilled. Soccer is to Africa what hockey is to Canada or football to the USA. The Africans were immensely proud to host the World Cup on their continent.

A newly planted wheat field near Lusaka, Zambia is being irrigated. Hopefully the power supply holds! Seems it did. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

A newly planted wheat field near Lusaka, Zambia is being irrigated. Hopefully the power supply holds! Seems it did. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Power shortages are normal in Zambia at the best of times. Zambia promised South Africa to provide them with extra power during the games. That’s also the time of year when the irrigation pumps need to be working full time.

Last April commercial farmers in Zambia were trying to decide how much wheat to plant. There’s absolutely no rain during the dry, cool wheat growing season. In 2008 Zambia had 180,000 hectares planted with wheat. That takes a lot of water. Would they get the necessary power?

I emailed Rassie du Toit, a wheat farmer in Mkushi farming block. Here’s his answer (from July 12): “Wheat is in head at the moment with power holding unexpectedly well. All irrigation is running very good, hope that the wheat marketing will improve, smaller crop than last year, should improve prices. We are in general under a lot of financial pressure but believe that it will turn around, it usually does!”

180,000 hectares of wheat in Zambia means there's a lot of irrigation pivots like this one running. All of them need power and water. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

180,000 hectares of wheat in Zambia means there's a lot of irrigation pivots like this one running. All of them need power and water. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

That last sentence could have been penned by a Canadian farmer! Zambian commercial farmers did very well for quite some time, building up some very impressive farms. Now they’ve run into overproduction, due to expansion and more farmers coming from Zimbabwe where they’ve been displaced by Robert Mugabe.

Zambia, with only 11 million people and most of them with little purchasing power, is a small market and quickly saturated. Exporting is difficult, as Zambia’s production costs are higher than those countries around them. Contributing factors are excise duty on diesel, high power costs, and distance to port.

But farmers are eternal optimists!

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