The Bakers Association of Zimbabwe (BAZ )wants the Government to extend the period it granted them to import flour and to contract farmers to grow more wheat this winter season to boost local supplies.
BAZ said its members were faced with challenges that have seen the sector operating 35 percent below capacity.
The association voiced concern over a US$3,1 million legacy debt for forex payments to foreign suppliers which they said Government should assist in settling to continue accessing raw materials.
The bakers appeared before the Senate Thematic Committee on Peace and Security, which was chaired by Mr Charles Moyo, last week.
The bakers were represented by their president, Mr Dennis Wata, vice presidents Mr Lucky Zinyama and Nyasha Maringazuva Mhizha and former president Mr Ngoni Mazango.
Presenting their oral evidence to the committee, Mr Zinyama said bakers wanted to produce affordable bread, but were failing to do so because their production costs were high.
Most inputs were imported and this was pushing up the price of bread, while demand was declining because fewer people could afford to buy a loaf.
“We feel the problem is beyond the industry. The economy is not where it is supposed to be,” he said.
Mr Mhizha said after fuel price were increased in January bakers received a commitment that they would receive fuel rebates but they have not received them to date.
“When the forex debt was assumed by the RBZ, it was at a rate of 1:1 now we have moved from 1:1 to the current interbank rate which is so big that our expenses have multiplied.
“We cannot afford as bakers to settle the debt at that rate. Our creditors are no longer patient because of the long period we have taken to settle the debt,” he said.
Mr Wata said three quarters of bakers’ raw materials were imported and they required about $4 million to make two million loaves of bread per day.
Mr Mazango appealed to the Government to assist in liquidating the legacy debt.
“We are appealing to Government to help in liquidating the legacy debt so we can unlock supply from outside the country. The list of our raw materials that require foreign currency is endless. We require machinery and spares. Most of our members are using old equipment.
“As a country we should not be importing wheat. We should be capacitating farmers so they are able to grow the required wheat. Every year we need about 450 000 tonnes of wheat,” he said.
Mr Mazango expressed concern that some farmers were experiencing power challenges and failing to irrigate.
The legislators queried why the bakers were charging the same price for bread, yet their operating models were different.
Bakers said they were not in control of retail prices as these were determined by retailers.