'Fund winter wheat production'

HARARE - A leading agriculture expert Professor Mandivamba Rukuni says government and the private sector must work together to help increase wheat production in the country.

Rukuni yesterday told delegates attending the Bakers and Millers Association breakfast meeting in the capital that there was no way wheat production can be increased without all stakeholders pulling in the same direction.

“The vision of continuing sustained winter wheat production will remain a pipe dream if we don’t address the issue of water, irrigation and funding,” he said.

This comes after wheat production in the country declined to an all-time low of 31 000 tonnes this year against a national requirement of 400 000 tonnes due to debilitating power outages and high costs of production.

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 hectares, which yielded 33 000 tonnes.

Rukuni noted that there was need to revive the contract farming model which assists in unlocking capital into agriculture sector.

“Once capital in unlocked then farmers can better utilise the resources they already have and production and productivity are likely to increase,” he said.

“Farmers should stop wishing that government will distribute inputs to them for free. This model does not work. Government must create a good environment conducive for investment while the private sector comes in and offer financial support for setting up irrigation infrastructure and inputs.”

In August, the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) signed a memorandum of Understanding with farmers to capacitate them 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,” said GMAZ president Tafadzwa Musarara.

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.

Charles Taffs, the Commercial Farmers Union president, 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.

“It’s very simple really. In 2014 what we have got to do is to make sure we boost investor confidence so that we get investment in irrigation for the winter crop because we rely 100 percent on irrigation for the winter crop,” Taffs said.

“We also have to address issues to do with power cuts and cost of power and the whole value chain in general.”

Taffs said the country should give farmers security of tenure to access funding from banks and come up with lasting solutions to huge production costs and close the current power deficit to save wheat production from total collapse.

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