Wheat shortfalls to worsen — CFU

ZIMBABWE needs to import wheat worth over US$128,8 million to meet an expected shortfall of 339 000 tonnes, which bakers say could cripple operations.

Farmers, hamstrung by lack of capital, high costs of inputs and continued land ownership wrangles, expect to produce 11 000 tonnes of winter wheat planted on 3 100 hectares, according to the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU).

This is against a national annual demand of 350 000 tonnes, says CFU President Deon Theron.
“We (Zimbabwe) will have to import the wheat at an import price of US$380 per tonne and this translates to US$128 820 000, given our shortfall,” said Theron.

This would be the ninth consecutive year that the country would be importing wheat.
Money to finance past wheat imports came from the fiscus, Non-Governmental Organisations and food aid agencies.

Food imports, which have become inevitable over the past decade because of dwindling farm production, continue to put a strain on the government’s limited finances.

Theron said other problems facing farmers were inconsistent electricity supplies, high cost of water and expensive loans.

“Regarding loans, most farmers do not have anything to offer as security and this is worsened by the liquidity problems affecting the country in general,” said Theron.

Most resettled farmers who previously benefitted from subsidised inputs have failed to raise money to buy essentials such as seed, fertiliser, chemicals and fuel to power generators in the face of crippling electricity cuts by power company, Zesa Holdings.

National Bakers Association (NBA) president Brumwel Bushu said the 11 000 tonnes of wheat expected this year would only last a week, meaning Zimbabwe would continue being a net importer of wheat.

“Zimbabwe needs about 10 000 tonnes of wheat and 8 000 tonnes of flour per week. In other words this is as good as saying there would be nothing (locally) this year,” he told businessdigest this week.
“Government should assist farmers reach optimum production levels.”

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union President, William Nyabonda, said his union had proposed that government should avail funds to buy generators for winter wheat farmers because the electricity situation remained dire.

“The electricity issue is not a new thing. They (Zesa Holdings) have told us that they will provide us (wheat farmers) with power three times a week, which is not enough,” Nyabonda said.

Zesa spokesperson Fullard Gwasira said in an interview on Wednesday that the power utility would provide 12 hours of uninterrupted power three times a week.

“Our idea is not to punish them (winter wheat farmers). It is important for everyone to note that our resource is scarce and that we are not only catering for wheat farmers, but the whole country. There is increased demand for power during the period,” he said.

The country has relied on handouts from international donors since 2001 when war veterans and some of President Robert Mugabe’s supporters began taking over white-owned farms.

The Famine Early Warning Network, a USAID funded organ that provides vulnerability information, says aid agencies fed 3,5 million Zimbabweans, about a quarter of the population, during this year’s peak hunger period between January and March.

Paul Nyakazeya

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