Bread shortages loom

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A bread shortage is looming after local millers ran out of wheat due to foreign currency shortages to import the cereal.

The country has been facing challenges in wheat availability of late in spite of concerted efforts government to allay fears of bread shortages through implementing stop gap measures which have to date yielded little results.

Zimbabwe’s wheat production declined from 186 243 metric tonnes in 2017 to 160 600 metric tonnes last year. Of the 186 000 metric tonnes of wheat produced last year, 80 percent of the tonnage delivered came from farmers contracted under the government’s command agriculture programme. In the previous season, the country had produced less than 100 000 tonnes of wheat.

This has resulted in the country increasingly relying on imports to make up for shortfalls and meet wheat demand, estimated at 400 000 metric tonnes annually.

The country’s milling industry requires two types of wheat to produce bread-making flour. The main one is soft wheat, which constitutes between 90 percent to 92 percent of wheat used for bread making and hard wheat which is also known as gristing wheat which constitutes between eight percent -10 percent. Under local conditions, it is more advantageous to produce the soft than hard wheat.

Zimbabwe’s cabinet has now agreed to Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube’s decision to have wheat millers venture into wheat farming and fund their own raw material for flour milling.

Zimbabwe is losing $100 million annually to wheat imports due to failure by farmers to produce enough stocks.

Zimbabwe needs the flour for bread-making and other confectioneries and currently relies on imports from countries such as Lithuania.

“The cabinet agreed on measures to boost local wheat production as follows: that grain millers and bakers be facilitated to venture into wheat production for their specific needs,” said Ncube.

The Zimbabwean government is also to ensure that “appropriate schemes be instituted to insure the wheat crop so as to encourage farmers” to venture into wheat production.

Ncube is hoping that National Foods and other grain millers will use contract farming arrangements.

Other Zimbabwean manufacturers that already use contract farming include Anheuser-Busch InBev associate brewer in Zimbabwe, Delta Corporation, as well as British American Tobacco Zimbabwe, among others.

Sources in the grain millers industry said supplies of imported wheat were “not looking good”, especially ahead of “a peak season for demand of flour”.