Zimbabwe winter wheat beats war’s woes

Chris Mahove

The disruptions in the supply of chain of wheat caused by the dispute between European neighbours Russia and Ukraine are unlikely to be felt in Zimbabwe as the country is expected to produce more than its national requirements.

The situation in Ukraine resulted in serious wheat shortages as supplies to many parts of the world which depended on the world’s biggest wheat producers were halted or limited, including to Zimbabwe, effectively pushing the prices of flour and bread up.

Zimbabwe’s food inflation has been a key highlight of recent economic instability in the Southern African nation.

But, buouyed by interventions such as the development of high yielding wheat varieties with a production potential of five to six tonnes per hectare; irrigation and more technical assistance to farmers, is set to change the script.

At the weekend, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, writing in his weekly State media column said farmers had heeded government’s call to put more land under wheat in order for the country to offset disruptions related to the conflict in Eastern Europe.

“I am told we managed to put about 80 000 hectares under the wheat crop. The expected output is about 420 000 tonnes, 20 000 tonnes above our national requirement. This is highly commendable,” he said.

He said with the same 80 000 hectares under irrigation and with intense performance, the country could easily 800 000 tonnes of grain this coming summer, at an average of ten tonnes per hectare.

“That would mean a mere 200 000 tonnes shy of half our national grain requirement. With the new focus turning to productivity, this should be easily achievable. Yet 800 000 tonnes is about the aggregate output we attained nationally in the 2021/22 season! We thus need a hard-headed look at productivity,” he said.

The news has excited observers and stakeholders.

Economist Posper Chitambara said the high wheat yields were a good development for Zimbabwe in terms of moderating food inflation in the country.

“As you know Zimbabwe is one of the countries with the highest levels of food inflation so an increase in production obviously helps to moderate that. It also helps to moderate the food insecurity, high levels of food insecurity prevailing in the economy.

“So, I would say these are very positive developments but more still needs to be done to ensure that more and more land is put under irrigation not only in terms of food production but in terms of other crops to make sure that we are able to crowd in greater private sector involvement and financing of agriculture in general,” he said.

Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) chairman, Tafadzwa Musarara said the milling industry was excited with the expected yield.

“An increase in supply always brings price stability. So, we anticipate that the local wheat pricing will be indexed as it is the case currently, with import parity,” he said.

Not yet there, though…

Despite the good news, challenges remain as Zimbabwe is yet to go beyond the aggregate goal of National Food Self-Sufficiency, according to President Mnangagwa.

“We must now begin to build efficiencies all round, so more and more we work with farmer-and farm-targeted goals of productivity. When I look at our output per hectare, or the input-output ratio, both in relation to leading food producers in our Region and in the world, we still have more to do. This sets a new focus for us, both as individual farmers and as an industry. There are lots of inefficiencies belied by positive national aggregate output,” he said.

He said attention should now focus on how much farmers produced per hectare; per farmer/household, and per given quantity of key inputs, which he said took the country into the realm of productivity, while also getting to focus closely on each variable in the whole range of the interventions.

Government also set out to modernise the agricultural sector through mechanisation, science and more intensive farmer extension support.

“Because of these far-reaching interventions, we were able to achieve a national surplus in a short space of just two seasons, peaking in the 2020-21 season,” he said

President Mnangagwa said the country should now focus on the entire agricultural production continuum: from preparing for the season right up to delivery to depots, adding it was no longer sufficient to revel in positive aggregate output, both at micro- and at macro-levels.

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