Zim winter wheat production down 29%

ZIMBABWE’S winter wheat production is this year seen dropping by as much as 29% to 10 000 metric tonnes (mt) as structural challenges affecting viability of the cereal’s production persist, a top farming expert says.

Taurai Mangudhla

The country will fail to meet last year’s production levels of 14 000mt as the planted area will significantly decline, Commercial Farmers Union (Cfu) crops manager Richard Taylor said.

About 4 000 hectares of wheat were planted in 2013 against around 3 000 hectares in the current season, according to national figures.

“The biggest issue is basically the high input costs that is water, electricity, seed and fertilisers and this will result in production declining,” Taylor said.

He also said pricing was a major challenge for wheat producers as local buyers are paying less than average international prices.
“Local prices dropped in line with the international prices,” he added.

Taylor said wheat imports would continue to feature on the country’s expenditure as national consumption stands around 400 000mt per year, the bulk of which is imported from neigbouring South Africa and Zambia.

He said farmers and government needed funding to get out of the current predicament.

Economists say Zimbabwe must find ways to address the land tenure system after the fast track land reform so that farmers can use land as collateral to access funding from banks. Government’s 99-year leases are not accepted as security by banks.

In an interview with businessdigest, Agriculture Co-Deputy Minister responsible for cropping Davison Marapira said his department had spoken to the ministries responsible for water and electricity to ensure special arrangements for wheat growers going forward.

However, indications on the ground are that farmers are yet to have confidence in the new arrangement.

“The response may take two to three years for people to start growing wheat again confidently after seeing a change in water and electricity supply,” said Marapira.

Currently, Marapira said, farmers are still planting their winter wheat crop and are expected to do so until mid June.

“If they continue planting after mid June their wheat will be affected by early rains and their yield will be affected as well.”

In 2013, local millers said Zimbabwe consumes more than a million loaves of bread daily and needs at least 25 000 tonnes of wheat monthly.

The millers said the country needed US$200 million worth of flour a year to meet the national bread demands.

According to national statistics, about a decade ago, local producers used to harvest up to 260 000 tonnes from about 65 000 hectares, with the balance of 40 000 tonnes being imported. In 2012, the hectarage under wheat production shrunk to only 4 000 hactares, which yielded 16 000 tonnes.

Grain Millers’ Association of Zimbabwe chairperson Tafadzwa Musarara said government should come up with a wheat policy that would ensure there is a secure source of affordable funding and reasonable loan terms. Musarara said farmers must realise they will not make profit if their yields are less than 4 tonnes per hectare.

He said binding pre-planting prices must be permitted to stimulate wheat production.

He said the pre-planting prices must be protected and not overruled by gazetted floor prices.

He also said government should do more to protect potential investors in agriculture.

“The current legislation that regulates contract farming is heavily biased towards farmers. It does not have sufficient investor protection,” he said.

“For instance, where a farmer willfully and intentionally diverts inputs of worth US$30 000 he is only liable to a fine of US$100 or a prison for a period sentence not more than three months, but if one will be imprisoned for 9 years for stealing the same farmer’s beast worth US$300.”

He said government should focus on revamping irrigation and dams while limiting flour imports, which have flooded the market.

“Wheat farmers have been facing problems of power supply and funding has been expensive,” Musarara said. “They also have high monthly electricity and water bills. Considering that Zimbabwe consumes one million loaves a day, government has to come up with a clear wheat policy.”

Cfu president Charles Taffs also recently said viable solutions are required to address fundamentals in respect of land tenure and a general lack of policy consistency in order to attract much-needed foreign direct investment in irrigation.