Harare (New Ziana) – As the Russia-Ukraine war and grain export curbs by Moscow push global wheat prices up, Zimbabwe has set in motion plans to secure wheat self-sufficiency, with a production target of 400 000 metric tonnes in the upcoming winter farming season to insulate itself from the war’s impact.
Zimbabwe is targeting to plant 75 000 hectares of wheat, under various funding models this winter farming season.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly 30 percent of global wheat exports combined, and since war broke out two weeks ago, wheat prices have hit record highs, with food and agricultural experts warning of increased global food insecurity.
Food inflation is also expected to rise.
In January, average food inflation around the world hit 7.8 per cent, the highest level in seven years, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Last Friday, Zimbabwean millers who expect to import 155 000 tonnes of wheat this year through October, raised maize meal and flour prices, as a direct consequence of the war.
The private millers traditionally source most of their wheat imports from Russia.
In an interview with New Ziana, Agricultural Technical Extension Services (Agritex) chief director, Stancilae Tapererwa said, while farmers were already registering for winter wheat production, engagements were also ongoing with crucial stakeholders to secure adequate energy and water supplies.
“Through our training branch we have formed teams that are going to go to Provinces. We are going to team up with the department of mechanisation, the department of irrigation and seed houses to train farmers and equip them on wheat production so that we achieve at least 5 tonnes per hectare,” he said.
“As far as wheat growing is concerned, it is a question of the hectarage. We will get what we require if we achieve the 75 000 hectares and also it is a factor of the yield. We are supposed to achieve at least five tonnes per hectare to achieve the 400 000 metric tonnes. If we do not do this training we may achieve the hectarage but we may not achieve the production targets,” he said.
“We have also requested Zinwa (Zimbabwe National Water Authority) to give us the dam levels because it is pointless to put up a crop and before it matures then the farmers run short of water. (In terms of electricity) there is a national committee that is going to be formed; from our Friday meeting the permanent secretary (of Agriculture) is going to handle that together with the Honourable Minister. They will engage our partners, the Ministry of Energy to make sure that there is deliberate effort to give electricity to those farmers that have registered to grow wheat.”
Zimbabwe’s wheat requirements, he said, stood at 360 000 metric tonnes.
Tapererwa said the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe will support 36 500 hectares, AFC (formerly Agribank), is supporting 10 000 hectares, while the government will avail free inputs for 5 500 hectares to small holder farmers.
“We had a meeting with private sector players last Friday, they are supporting 23 000 hectares and they were saying they have already mobilised seed, fertiliser and chemicals,” he said.
“We are likely to be affected (by the Russia-Ukraine war) if we do not produce enough wheat for this nation.”
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Shadreck Makombe said farmers were aware of the global wheat supply situation, and were preparing to increase output in response.
“We are encouraging all our farmers who are near water bodies to go into wheat. We want to ensure that we even surpass those targets,” he said.
But, he lamented the high costs of irrigation equipment and crucial enablers, including electricity.
“We are in a quagmire, yes we understand that for example they should hike electricity for Zesa to be viable, but if they do so they will be killing the farmers because electricity is an enabler and it is the same with water. As farmers we are saying whatever is going to be done let the policy makers also be alive to our concerns.”
Last week, Cabinet approved pre-planting wheat floor producer prices of ZW$175 741.86, and ZW$193 316.046 per metric tonne of ordinary and premium grade wheat respectively.
To ensure food security, the government recently announced plans to open at least 50 000 hectares of land per year for irrigation.