Command wheat could save country $100m

HARARE – Zimbabwe could save over $100 million in foreign currency if it achieves wheat output of 200 000 tonnes this year, up from 65 000 tonnes attained last year. The expected rise in tonnage comes after Government provided adequate and consistent supply of water and electricity during the just ended season.

In responses to The Herald Business, an official from the Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Ministry, said given the ongoing wheat deliveries to the Grain Marketing Board, 200 000 tonnes is achievable.

“We are anticipating to get around 200 000 tonnes of wheat and given the way deliveries are coming, we may reach that target. Around $100 million worth of foreign currency will be saved along the way,” said the official. He said the Ministry was happy with the constant supply of water and electricity throughout the winter wheat farming season and as a result, five tonnes per hectare from the previously projected four tonnes was attained.

Most wheat across the country was harvested by a total of 195 combine harvesters. Wheat is recommended to be harvested before first rains as they affect the quality of the wheat, but some wheat is still in the fields despite the rainy season commencing a couple of weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the Command Agriculture programme, which started this season with maize production, has now been expanded to include winter wheat, with the import substitution expected to save a lot of foreign currency for the country.

Farmers were provided with all the inputs, as was the case with maize. Through the stop order system, farmers are expected to deliver an agreed tonnage to the Grain Marketing Board as repayment for the loan advanced to them in the form of inputs such as wheat seed, fertilisers, chemicals and tillage services.

Farmers with irrigation infrastructure have in the past failed to grow wheat because of lack of financial resources to buy the inputs, a gap that Government has bridged through the Command winter wheat programme. The private sector has invested over $100 million for this year’s wheat crop. Sakunda, National Foods, Northern Farming Company, Stay Well Company and CBZ Bank have committed to supporting cultivation of winter wheat.

CBZ has budgeted $10 million for on lending to wheat farmers at interest rates of between 10 and 12 percent and it is now expecting to get its money back so that it can extend that money to summer cropping farmers. On average, the country spends $100 million annually on wheat imports. Government is buying wheat at $500 per tonne, while private buyers offer between $360 and $380 per tonne.

In this scenario, most farmers will deliver to GMB, which offers a viable price. So far over 30 000 tonnes of wheat have so far been delivered to the GMB. Zimbabwe needs around 400 000 tonnes of wheat yearly to feed the market. – UKR AGRO CONSULTANT

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