Bread shortages loom

...As wheat stocks run dry ....Lobels operations in limbo

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STAFF WRITER

A bread shortage is looming after local millers ran out of wheat due to foreign currency shortages to import the cereal, Business Times has learnt.

The country has been facing challenges in wheat availability of late in spite of concerted efforts by government to allay fears of  bread shortages through implementing stop gap measures which have to date yielded little results.

Official figures from the RBZ show that the country uses around $45 million per quarter on wheat imports.

Information gathered by Business Times points to the fact that the country’s third largest bread manufacturer, Lobels Bakeries has already stopped operations citing continued wheat shortages that eventually feeds into flour shortages.

Zimbabwe imports wheat to supplement the local cereal which alone does not make good bread. Bread manufactured by local bakers has 50% hard (imported) wheat.

Statistics shows that Zimbabwe needs an estimated 400 000MT of wheat per year to meet its demand of about 950 000 loaves of bread per day.

Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe chairman Tafadzwa Musarara could not be drawn into commenting on the matter. “I have no comment on the issue,” Musarara said.

Lobels Bakeries managing director Heritage Nhende confirmed that his company was facing challenges but was looking at engaging authorities in finding a way out of the situation. “Yes we are facing challenges as a company but we are looking at engaging authorities before we can go to the press,” said Nhende.

The wheat shortages have raised fears of a looming bread shortage. Local wheat is mainly used for self-raising flour, biscuits and spaghetti among other products. National Bakers Association of Zimbabwe president Ngoni Mazango
confirmed the shortage of wheat.

“There is a massive shortage of wheat at the moment and that is official. We have engaged authorities on the matter with the hope that they will act on it. This therefore means the current bread price is no longer viable and we are operating at a loss,” Mazango said.

The local bakery industry has continued  to swim in turbulent waters as more companies fold operations with current number of those operating now sitting at 100 from 250 bakeries owing to lack of working capital, antiquated equipment and high cost of production.

The bakery industry is dominated by three giants (Lobels, Bakers Inn and Proton) controlling 95 percent of the market while smaller bakeries control only about five percent.

The prevailing shortages come at a time when  the country’s private sector is targeting 90 000 metric tonnes of wheat output this season after securing adequate inputs worth US$12 million in a bid to supplement  government’s effort to grow sufficient  cereal for the country.

GMAZ has since appointed National Wheat Contract Farming Committee which is a technical committee to lead the winter wheat contract farming for the next three years.

The NWCFC will be chaired by Musarara and deputised by Graeme Murdoch of Paper Hole Investment.

Major contractors involved in wheat farming have prepared to commit to a minimum of 15 000 hectares to a program of wheat this year, it is anticipated that an increase should generate a minimum of 90 000 tonnes of reasonably good quality wheat for harvest in October / November 2019.

This is however below national requirement of 450 000 tonnes yearly but will go a long way in reducing imports which consume a great deal of forex.

Government is therefore working on increasing hectarage of wheat from the current 43 000 hectares to ensure self-sufficiency, save foreign currency and create more jobs for youths and women.

For Zimbabwe to attain the national requirement of 450 000 tonnes yearly, it needs to plant 90 000 hectares of winter wheat at an average yield of five tonnes per hectare.

Even if the national requirement is attained the country will need to supplement local wheat with imports as local wheat needs imported wheat to make good quality bread.

However, the national bread requirements which stand at one million loaves per day will go down as the ZWL$3,50 per loaf is beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans whose buying power has been reduced by stagnant salaries.