The Sunday Mail
Zimbabwe expects to achieve record production of the winter wheat crop this year, one of its key staples, which will ensure self-sufficiency, bolster the country’s food security situation and eliminate dependence on exports.
This would come in handy to avoid shortages, especially amid the prevailing global supply disruptions and uncertainties created by the raging war in Eastern Europe.
The Southern African country had excellent preparations for production of winter wheat this year, with harvesting scheduled to start mid this month, to counter supply constraints caused by major suppliers, Russia and Ukraine, presently locked in an armed conflict that shows no sign of ending any time soon.
Lands, Agriculture, Water and Fisheries and Rural Development Deputy Minister Vangelis Haritatos confirmed the country’s strong position this year, after farmers planted a total of 78 000 hectares of the winter wheat crop, itself a record achievement in terms of previous hectarage put under the strategically key grain crop.
“Yes, the crop is good. We have done some assessments and our projections are that we should get about 380 000 tonnes of the cereal, which is 20 000 tonnes more than the national requirement,” the deputy minister said.
The 78 000 hectares put under the winter wheat crop in 2022 compares well to the 66 000 hectares last year and this is expected to ensure the country is self-sufficient, with a small surplus to national requirements expected to be realised for the first time since wheat farming started in Zimbabwe in 1966.
The significant increase in hectarage for winter wheat was made possible through Government programmes that include Pfumvudza/Intwasa, the Presidential wheat scheme and the agro yield initiative.
Equally, the Food Contractors Association, which is a private sector-driven initiative, played a key role after the Government mandated it to produce 40 percent of the national requirement .
The private players planted 25 000 hectares against the target of 23 000 hectares.
The deputy minister said harvesting would begin this month although the majority of farmers are expected to start reaping in November.
“Harvesting will begin this month with a few farmers like me, then others will start in the coming month,” he said.
He indicated that 47 combine harvesters had been distributed to cluster centres across the country while more than 40 had been distributed to individuals as the Government prepares for wheat harvesting which commences next month.
The Government has, therefore, assured farmers that there are adequate combine harvesters to ensure an efficient harvesting process before the onset of the rainy season.
Some of the combine harvesters were given to AFC Holdings for onward leasing to farmers.
The Government has also entered into farm mechanisation development alliances with private players who will complement the existing fleet to ensure smooth wheat harvesting.
“All wheat farmers are in a position to access combine harvesters because they have formed 22 cluster centres across the country,” the deputy minister said.
Meanwhile, the Government is targeting to increase its current fleet of 260 combine harvesters to 300 by the end of the year through various facilities, including the Belarus Farm Mechanisation Scheme.
“According to our inventory the country is sitting at 260 functioning combine harvesters and we hope before the end of the year we will have 300 combine harvesters as we seek to build our fleet.
We want to reach our estimated national demand of 600 combine harvesters. We have received six combine harvesters under the Belarus farm mechanisation facility and we hope to receive 10 more before the end of the year,” Deputy Minister Haritatos added.
Takura Ruzvidzo, a Macheke-based farmer who has 750 hectares under the wheat crop this season, underscored the importance of investing in value addition mechanisms to derive maximum benefits from farm produce.
“Farming is a serious business which requires a lot of attention. What I have done is to employ an industrial engineer as my manager.
“I am running a big business and as such it needs people who are professional. After I do this wheat I sell it to GMB and have a partnership with them so that I monitor the product before buying it from the national grain reserve. Value addition is the only way to go if farmers are to enjoy the fruits of their work.”
According to seed producing giant, Seed Co, the crop has a very lucrative return on investment.
“The return per dollar invested for wheat is about US$2-US$3 under high productivity levels. After investing about US$2 000,00/ha, a farmer can get a total income of about US$4 000,00 (at 8 tonnes/ha and @US$500/tonne), giving a gross profit of about US$2 000,00/ha. We can imagine a farmer doing 200ha getting between 8 and 11 tonnes/Ha.
“It is also a major viable component of double cropping set ups. We have always been encouraging farmers with irrigation to adopt the double cropping concept in order to improve their bottom and top line stories at farm level as well as to spread coverage of fixed costs per year. Growing wheat in winter also aids spread of cash flow on the farm.
“The basic farm business principle is that farmers should have at least 2 major crop harvests per year supported by other complimentary crop sales/ventures after every two months,” says Seed Co.
Since the nation is in a drive for import substitution, Seed Co says, producing wheat locally will result in forex savings which would otherwise be channeled to other more productive related priorities of the economy.
The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange listed company also contends that the national annual wheat/flour requirement is about 350 000 tonnes and over the years Zimbabwe has been producing less than a quarter of that. “One can imagine the savings if we can produce this sum requirement locally”.
Seed Co also said producing wheat locally also creates employment directly at farm level (agriculture value chain) and indirectly (other value chains), upstream and downstream industries such as milling, baking and food outlets.
Currently wheat contributes between 4-5 percent (a significant chunk) to the agriculture gross domestic product.
“Producing this annual national requirement locally will surely double if not thrice its contribution to the agriculture GDP. Ultimately we can also expect an increase in agriculture GDP contribution to the national GDP from the current range of 20-30 percent upwards,” the company.