FARMERS in Mashonaland West province are racing against time to harvest their winter wheat crop ahead of the onset of the rainy season amid a critical shortage of harvesting equipment.

The situation has been compounded by the rising cost of hiring the equipment, which has more than doubled in the last two weeks and transient fuel shortages blamed on speculation that gripped Zimbabwe recently. Hiring a combine harvester has doubled to around $200 per hectare from around $100 while fuel supply challenges are affecting harvesting.

In an interview, Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union second vice-president Mr Berean Mukwende said farmers were facing challenges in securing combine harvesters while costs were becoming prohibitive.

“There is a shortage of combine harvesters but the major problem for farmers who want to harvest their winter wheat is the issue of prices which have increased in the past week,” he said.

“We have seen the cost of hiring combine harvesters increasing in recent days which threatens to affect the harvesting process. Owners are citing the rising cost of spare parts.”

Mr Mukwende said farmers had a two-week window period to harvest their crop before the rainy season starts.

Transporters have also increased charges, which has also affected farmers who are racing against time to avoid the rains. For distances of between a kilometre and 150km, transporters were charging between $13 and $32 per tonne a month ago but the charges have reportedly trebled.

Harvesting of the winter wheat crop has begun with some farmers already delivering the cereal to the Grain Marketing Board.

Mashonaland West province put approximately 10 000 hectares under wheat with about 7 000 hectares being financed through Government’s Command Agriculture support programme.