The only crop that is either horticulture or field crop depending on when you grow it
Many African countries consider maize a staple grain crop. What is not mentioned is that in some quarters such as hotels, maize cobs are actually served as a vegetable and this suggests it can be classified under horticulture. In most farming communities of Zimbabwe that are endowed with water and the right climate, maize is produced as green mealies for sale alongside horticulture commodities. Given the poor performance of maize grain market, the horticulture side of maize has gained an upper hand over the past few decades in Zimbabwe. The two following graphics show quantities of green mealies supplied to Mbare market in Harare during the whole of 2014 and January to July 2015. The second graphic depicts areas where the commodity came from.
Graphic 1: Green mealies supplied (tons) – Mbare Farmers Market: Jan – Dec 2014 and Jan- July 2015
It is interesting to note that December had the highest supply of green mealies in 2014 while in 2015 July has been the peak supply period so far. January, February, August, Septembers and October 2014 had an almost constant supply. These are often time characterized with insufficient maize grain in most households but green mealies will be quite active as shown by the above graphic.
Total quantities supplied (in tons) by source: Jan – Dec 2014 and Jan – July 2015
During the period under review, green mealies came from 23 areas into Mbare farmers market. The bulk of green mealies came from Goromonzi district with the least coming from Mberengwa. However, it is interesting to note that, although classified as a dry region, Mberengwa was able to supply green mealies. The commodity is mainly produced in irrigation schemes and wetlands.
Maize as horticulture
Depending on when you plant it, maize can be either horticulture or a field crop. When planted in July/August for marketing in October/November as well as in February March for marketing in July/August/September, it is entirely a horticulture crop. However, if it is planted through rainfall in October/November/December it is a field crop. Since a lot of maize is harvested in April and May, green mealies are not a viable business when grown through rain-fed production.
What is increasingly becoming apparent in Zimbabwe is that farmers make more money when growing maize as a horticulture (green mealies) than for grain. This past winter, one farmer was able to sell 20 hectares of green mealies in two weeks. In the coming season he is aiming for 30 hectares. When growing maize for green mealies, the spacing between plants is wider in order to produce bigger cobs that are preferred by the market. Plant population can be 40 000 plants whereas in summer plant population can be 50 000 because even smaller cobs can be consumed as grain. From 40 000 maize plants per hectare, 30 000 are marketable while 10 000 are small and go towards drying for mealie meal.
Green mealies are usually sold in dozens with a standard dozen weighing approximately 7kg. The 30 000 plants are equivalent to 2 500 dozens and, when sold at $2 per dozen, the farmer earns $5000 per hectare. On the other hand, when producing maize in summer, a very good farmer can harvest 6 tons per hectare and when sold at $275/ton, offered by some commercial maize buyers, the farmer gets $1 600/hectare – way below what is earned through green mealies. In addition, left- overs from green mealies (10 000 cobs) are dried into mealie meal. You need 80 small cobs to fill a bucket of maize and this translates to two tons for own consumption as mealie meal. If you convert six tons into buckets you get 360 bucket @ $10/bucket in some areas where maize grain is scarce, you get $3 600. Still this is lower than what one earns from green mealies.
Farmers in wetlands can use their land to produce green mealies and be on the market when no one else has the commodity. Growing green mealies, groundnuts, Bambara nuts and okra has become a commodity viable practice in wetlands. Farmers can produce enough maize as green mealies and also for drying into grain. Green mealies are easy to harvest because a buyer just pulls out the cobs unlike producing for grain where maize stalks are cut and stoked – demanding a lot of labour as well as losing some maize to weevils. Selling green mealies on-farm has a strong element of conditional sale because the seller chooses what s/he wants and cannot leave it for anyone when s/he has removed the cob for the stalk.
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