Zimbabwe is spending $100 million annually to import wheat due to failure by local farmers to meet the demand, a cabinet minister has revealed.
The country has been struggling to meet the demand for the past 16 years forcing the government to rely on imports to cover the gap.
However, the government has been struggling to pay for the wheat supplies due to foreign currency constraints.
Speaking at a Thursday dinner organised by the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) as part of efforts to share ideas and experiences towards reviving agro processing industry, Minister of Industry and Commerce, Mangaliso Ndlovu, said Zimbabwe requires approximately 400 000 metric tonnes of wheat annually and is currently producing half of that.
“A study conducted in 2003 on the bread price indicated that there was a huge deficit in terms of wheat production compared to the nation’s annual consumption where seven months’ wheat supply was to be met through imports. 16 years down the line, we are still faced with the same challenges, if not worse,” Minister Ndlovu said.
The industry minister who recently had to intervene when bakers wanted to increase the price of bread said homegrown solutions were needed to solve such challenges.
“I am reliably informed that a technical committee to spearhead winter wheat contract farming has also been established. This is truly commendable and I am also informed that expected output from this initiative would be at least 150 000 metric tonnes of wheat. Command agriculture as highlighted has shown as a country we have the capacity to solve of our pertinent problems,” Ndlovu said.
He applauded GMAZ for this initiative which the minister claimed would “undoubtedly” solve wheat challenges.
“This is commendable in that it is purely a private sector initiative and I’m a firm believer of locally generated solutions to problems we encounter as a nation. In the 2017 to 2018 season Zimbabwe produced 186 000 tonnes of wheat of which 80 percent of the tonnage delivered came from farmers contracted under the government’s command agriculture programme,” the minister said.
In the previous season, the country had produced less than 100 000 tonnes.
“I wish to encourage GMAZ to consider mobilising inputs and machinery promoting and expanding farming activities in the country in all suitable farming districts of Zimbabwe. It is also my expectation that the sector can design promote and support agro extension services for contracted farmers and also to negotiate with government and farmers unions on producer prices, services and subsidies”.
The youthful minister said Zimbabwe has suffered a protracted period under illegal sanctions which called for the need to come up with local solutions.
“By the way sanctions have been renewed, be that as it may, our progress has to be measured by our ability to innovate and promulgate local solutions to our problems particularly in the face of hostility from the so called powerful nations. This therefore calls for intensified collaboration amongst ourselves for various capacities, which include academics industry among other institutions in promoting innovation and productivity”.
GMAZ chairman, Tafadzwa Musarara assured that strenuous efforts were exerted to normalise flour supplies.
“The Command Agriculture Programme has saved the country for the past three years as it had become our biggest source of local wheat and maize. Let me assure you of continued and stable supplies of maize meal and other related products we produce,” he said.
Musarara highlighted that government must keep running the command agriculture programme as it was assisting the country meet some of its obligations.
“We have now stepped up contract farming activities and aiming to yield annually an excess of 100 000 metric tonnes of wheat every year for the next three years. The two programmes will work with complementarity. This speaks to the extent that we are reaching to make sure there is a stable supply of maize and wheat,” claimed the GMAZ chair.