Bumper wheat harvest to help cut import bill Zimbabwe expects a record winter wheat harvest of about 380 000 tonnes this year.

Business Reporter

Zimbabwe will this year be able to significantly cut the amount of wheat it needs to import to supplement and blend with the locally produced grain, as the country expects record production from this year’s winter crop, industry players say.

The Southern African country expects to be wheat self-sufficient this year with authorities forecasting a winter wheat harvest of about 380 000 tonnes, which is 20 000 tonnes more than the national requirement

This comes after 80 000 hectares were put under the winter wheat crop during the 2022 winter farming season compared to 66 000 hectares last year, leaving the country with a sizable surplus for the first time since wheat farming started in Zimbabwe in 1966.

As such, if Zimbabwe achieves a bumper harvest as expected, the country would be self-sufficient in terms of the tonnage required for local consumption, and may only export the excess to import hard wheat for blending, resulting in a net off.

In 2020, cereal imports by Zimbabwe totaled US$524,603 million, with wheat making a huge chunk of the shipments. Though Zimbabwe cereal imports fluctuated substantially in recent years, they tended to increase between 1971 and 2020.

Blending may be defined as combining grain (varieties or grades) to obtain grain of a particular quality or consistency.  

Blending of grain may occur at various locations along the supply chain, depending on a range of factors including the quality of the original grain, desired quality of the final product and commercial aspects such as contractual obligations of grain quality to be supplied following blending.

Grain Millers Association chairman Tafadzwa Musarara said Zimbabwe has been importing wheat for two reasons; firstly to mitigate shortages given that over the years national demand outstripped local production. 

Secondly, he said as is common practice across the world, Zimbabwe needed to blend different varieties to produce the desired flour quality for durable tasty bread, which saw the country importing 30 percent (hard wheat) of its total needs.

Previously, Zimbabwe had to import both soft (local) wheat and hard (imported wheat), which cost the country significant foreign currency. At one point, Zimbabwe saw significant bread price increases as millers relied on imports funded from free funds sourced from the black market.

Mr Musarara said, “The quality of our local wheat is good, compared to the regional wheat and it is doing well in the production of biscuits and a number of other products. In relation to bread, we have to mix varieties to give us good durable bread such as Russian wheat flour.”

Zimbabwe has been using wheat imported from Russia, Canada and Australia to blend with local wheat for bread flour over the past 20 years.

This comes after the National Baker’s Association of Zimbabwe (NBAZ) recently expressed concern over the quality of wheat produced in Zimbabwe.

The NBAZ claimed that some of the local wheat was of questionable quality, which affected the quality of the flour made from the grain.

NBAZ vice president, Sharon Maparura said, “There is need to get the quality of local wheat right. We know that the gristing ratio is roughly 70 percent local wheat and 30 percent being imported wheat.”

She added that when the country faces foreign currency challenges to import blending wheat, more local wheat that ordinarily desired ends up going into the flour production “than we would probably want”.

“The real issue for us is the quality of the local wheat because if it is not where we would like it to be — we know we are going to face less challenges,” Ms Maparura said.

“So, if the flour quality is not right, we have to add enzymes, we have to put in additives. That comes at a cost. It is a cost that unfortunately the person at the end of the value chain has to pay for.”

Yusuf Kamau, the general manager of Blue Ribbon Foods said, “Bakers demand a consistent quality flour that is fit for purposes of fulfilling their consumers’ needs while the millers have to produce this demanded quality year round and hence (the need) for gristing or blending of available differing wheat.”

But Mr Musarara pointed out that poor quality of local wheat was a rare case in Zimbabwe, given that where this occurs, it is the result of limited water to irrigate the wheat during production.

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