Zimbabwe to save US$60m in wheat imports

Zimbabwe is expected to harvest nine months’ supply of wheat from the 2020 winter crop, saving the Government up to US$60 million in imports.

While the county will import to cover the remaining three months supply, the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement will introduce summer wheat production starting with the 2021-2022 season to ensure wheat self-sufficiency and cut future imports.

Zimbabwe needs at least 400 000 tonnes of wheat a year to meet its flour demands, a tonnage the ministry is keen to achieve in line with the Government’s Vision 2030 of an upper middle income economy.

The ministry is working on the multiplication of wheat seed in preparation for the 2021-2022 summer wheat cropping season.

Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement ministry Permanent Secretary Dr John Basera, yesterday told The Herald that this winter season farmers planted 45 000 hectares of wheat.

“The yield assessment for wheat is underway, but indications are that we are likely to get  nine months’ supply of wheat. We will have a deficit of three months. From next season, we want to introduce a summer wheat programme to augment winter production.

“If we are wheat self-sufficient, we will be able to save the much-needed foreign currency which has been used by theGovernment to import wheat,” he said.

Last season, wheat farmers produced 90 000 tonnes, leaving a deficit of 310 000 tonnes. The present landed price of wheat per tonne is between US$380 and US$407, which translates to at least US$124 million being spent on imports to fill the gap.

By producing nine months’ supply of wheat this season, the country will save at least US$60 million.

“We are targeting 50 000 hectares of wheat during the 2021/2022 summer cropping season. Seed houses are working on multiplication of wheat varieties that are suitable for summer. So far we have Shield and Sahai varieties. We are also looking at smallholder farmers to take up this challenge by organising themselves in small clusters,” he said.

Dr Basera added that if the country meets its wheat supply demand, it will have a positive effect on the bread price.

As for the perennial shortage of combine harvesters which has resulted in late harvesting and some of the crop being destroyed by early rains, Dr Basera said the Government had approached banks for help.

“We are also targeting the Agribank special purpose vehicle facility which will help farmers harvest their wheat,” he said.

The combine harvesters are part of the US$51 million John Deere facility that was launched by President Mnangagwa in June to transform the agriculture sector and ensure food self-sufficiency.

About 600 combine harvesters are required for both summer and winter seasons, but the country has less than 200. Of these, 150 are functional.

Agribank was given an ultimatum to move the combine harvesters to the requisite farming areas by tomorrow for use by farmers.

“No wheat should be rained upon. We do not want spiriting losses. We cannot afford to lose even a single grain,” he said.

As such, Agribank has already moved some combine harvesters.

Last week, a combine harvester was dispatched to Bulawayo where wheat harvesting has started.

To help farmers meet their production costs, Government has reviewed upwards the wheat producer price as the country now expects a more than two fold jump in yield this season.

Last Thursday, the ordinary wheat average price was pegged at $43 778,84 per tonne while grade A wheat will be paid a premium price of 20 percent above that of the utility grade at $52 534.61.

The previous price was $11 786,44 per tonne while grade A wheat was pegged at $14 143.73.

Speaking on the side lines of the combine harvester dispatch launch programme last week, Agriculture Deputy Minister Vangelis Haritatos said: “I am happy and proud of our farmers this year. They have really gone all out. We are looking at a great improvement from last year, probably double or triple from (what) we got last year.

“I presume that even next year, we should surpass (our targets). We are food self-sufficient in terms of wheat production. We have been working well with the Ministry of Energy and Power Development and we were guaranteed of availability of power across the country. Even during the past weeks when there was a problem at Hwange, our wheat was not affected,” he said.

Zimbabwe has been a net importer of wheat prompting Government to come up with a programme to encourage wheat production on all farms with reliable water sources. – Herald