Bid to cut wheat import bill

HARARE - Zimbabwe may cut its wheat import bill by nearly $140 million per annum following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between millers and bakers.

The country currently spends around $500 million per annum on importing the cereal.

This comes as local wheat production has plummeted as farmers are avoiding the crop due to high production costs, limited funding and most critically competition from cheaper imports.

Last week, the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) president Tafadzwa Musarara said the MoU will capacitate local farmers to produce 220 000 metric tonnes of wheat per year to supply the baking industry.

“This agreement entails that the bakers will buy at least 75 percent of their monthly flour requirements from local farmers,” he said.

Musarara noted that millers will leverage this secured business to fund wheat contract farming so that 60 percent or more of the required wheat is obtained locally.

“The timing of this agreement will enable the millers to buy the current wheat as soon as it is harvested later this year at variable prices.

“Wheat imports will continue, albeit, at a lower scale for purposes of gristing,” he said.

Zimbabwe — which requires about 450 000 metric tonnes of wheat annually — has failed to reach its targeted 26 000 hectares for 2013 winter wheat due to inadequate funding from government and the private sector.

The southern African country only managed to put a paltry 3 000 hectares under the plough for the 2013 season.

Wheat production in the country has been on the decline over the past decade with the last two seasons being the worst. In 2011, only 12 000 hectares against a targeted 45 000 were planted while only 4 000 hectares from a target of 26 000 hectares was planted last year.

Wonder Chabikwa, the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president, recently said the country would have to import to meet national demand.

“Winter wheat production is going on well. We were targeting to plant 26 000 hectares but managed only 3 000 hectares with farmers using their own resources. Unfortunately, government could not support us this year,” he said.

Chabikwa said power utility Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission Distribution Company had tremendously improved its service and farmers expected to produce better yields next year as electricity was becoming more available.

He said the government had failed to sponsor winter wheat production due to pressing commitments including funding of harmonised elections.

Chabikwa castigated millers for failing to support winter wheat production preferring to import.

“It is not sustainable for a country to rely on importing when it has the capacity to produce the crop locally,” he added.

About 40 000 hectares are expected to be put under wheat in the coming season.

 

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