Zim scales down wheat production to 29 000ha

…as power outages escalates

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LIVINGSTONE MARUFU

ZIMBABWE has scaled down wheat production to 29 000 hectares from the initial target of 75 000 hectares for the 2019 winter wheat season due to crippling power outages.

The development comes at a time when the country is already facing serious bread shortages due to foreign currency shortages to import wheat and high costs of production against a controlled price of a loaf.

Under the import substitution programme, Command Agriculture, government planned to plant 60 000ha of wheat. However, 16 000ha was planted with privates players weighing in with 13 000ha out of the planned 15 000ha.

National Wheat Contract Farming Committee (NWCFC) vice chairperson Graeme Murdoch of Paper Hole Investment told Business Times that the electricity situation had greatly affected wheat production.

“This year we have a total hectarage of around 29 000ha with private sector planting 13 000 from the planned 15 000 and command managed 16 000ha from the planned 60 000ha. the reduction of hectarage was mainly due to crippling electricity outages,” Murdoch said.

Power outages made it difficult for most farmers to plan.

NWCFC is a technical committee established to lead the winter wheat contract farming for the next three years. It aims to stimulate wheat production in the country with a bid to acquire a minimum of 150 000 tonnes for the next three years.

Power reliability when using centre pivot irrigation is a real concern and cost. It takes an estimated 12 hours for centre pivots to go full circle (360 degrees). However with electricity only being available for seven hours, the heavy equipment will not be able to move significantly, a situation which leaves more wheat in dire circumstances.

In irrigation, Travellers, Sprays and Pivots use the most power but the most common type in Zimbabwe is the centre pivot.

Last year, Zimbabwe’s wheat output was 160 000 metric tonnes against a national demand of 450 000 tonnes. This year’s output will be much lower. A maximum output of 145 000 tonnes is expected to be attained from the hectarage planted.

This means that the country will use over US$200 million on wheat importation and bread shortages will persist.

Zimbabwe Farmers Union executive director Paul Zakariya said the country will experience very low wheat output due to erratic power supplies which have characterised the winter cropping season.

“Wheat in other areas has already been severely affected in such a way that their yield will be reduced by over 50 percent,” Zakariya said.

“Those farmers who are enjoying are those who have solar irrigation equipment which works well at this particular time.”

Zimbabwe’s cereal demand rose to 450 000 tonnes after 2015 from 400 000 tonnes due to changes in lifestyles and production of many food stuffs which need wheat.

However, even if the country was to achieve the national requirement, it would still import the wheat as the local wheat cannot make quality bread due to conditions in which the wheat is grown under and is suitable for making biscuits.

Government failed to announce a favourable pre-planting price due to runaway inflation which reached 175,66 percent in June. In April, government announced wheat price of around ZWL$1089 per tonne and from then things have drastically changed amid calls for a review to guard against inflation.