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Farming initiatives leading to wheat bumper harvest despite Ukraine war

Once the breadbasket of Africa, Zimbabwe has been facing food shortages over the past decades, during which the Southern African nation has been heavily relying on imports from its neighbouring countries as well as Eastern Europe.

Zimbabwe’s food security took a turn for the worse due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started last February. Wheat from Russia accounts for at least 50% of the country’s wheat imports, according to the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ).

Prices of wheat and fuel have also gone up since March, triggering an incessant rise in prices of staples across Zimbabwe, which GMAZ President Tafadzwa Musara and other officials attribute to the ongoing war in Eastern Europe.

“We were affected by the geopolitical developments in eastern Europe mainly on three fronts that are food fertilisers as well as fuel,” the lands ministry’s permanent secretary, John Bhasera, tells The Africa Report. “[…] we had to look inward and our best bet was to attain flour self-sufficiency at any cost.

Increasing hectarage

“Our plan was to plant about 75,000 hectares of wheat this year, but we surpassed that as we managed to achieve 79,000 hectares under wheat”, up from 66,000 hectares in 2021, Bhasera adds.

This is the first time that Zimbabwe boasts of 79,000 hectares of land designated for wheat since first growing the crop in 1962. The popular grain is the nation’s most significant strategic crop after maize.

Farmers will always fare better if the conditions are conducive. This is proof of concept

“We are projecting about 380,000 tonnes to about 400,000 tonnes against a national annual requirement of 360,000 tonnes. That is 13 months of supply of wheat and a surplus of 20,000 tonnes for the first time since the beginning of the history of wheat growing in Zimbabwe,” he says.

Collective effort

The government’s wheat programme this year involved private sector initiatives through Zimbabwean banks, such as CBZ and AFC, which both contributed about 25,000 hectares of wheat this year. Other private sector players, such as grain millers and processors, contributed 32% to the 79,000 hectares of wheat planted this year, according to the government.

The private sector’s off-takers must secure at least 40% of their annual requirements from the domestic market by supporting local farmers, according to a 2020 policy pronouncement. The government is considering reviewing the above quota for the private sector to 60% starting this summer.

Bhasera says a new government programme supported smallholder farmers with inputs, including fertilisers, wheat seed, and chemicals. “Another new initiative is the Presidential Wheat Programme whereby for the first time in many years, we support farmers in the irrigation schemes for […] farmers with less than three hectares,” he says.

“We supported them to the tune of 10,000 hectares and it is paying dividends in terms of helping us achieve that target and surpassing the target of 75,000 hectares up to the 79,000 hectares.”

Paul Zakariya, director of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, which represents small-scale growers, says the bumper harvest was a collective effort of all the stakeholders.

“Farmers will always fare better if the conditions are conducive. This is proof of concept,” he says. “The wheat season was well planned. Inputs were distributed on time. Contract arrangements were also done and concluded on time,” he says.

Reducing irrigation water, power shortages

Zakariya says the lands ministry has well coordinated key stakeholders like the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), which supply water and power respectively to wheat farmers.

“We created what we call the Food and Energy Nexus Committee comprising government agencies, private sector players as well as other development sector players like ministries of lands, finance and energy. Also ZESA, ZINWA,” Bhasera says. “The committee’s role is to make sure that there is uninterrupted power supply, fuel supply, and water to the wheat production clusters.”

Bhasera says they divided the country into wheat production clusters and the power supply was ring-fenced in those areas.

There was less load shedding this time […] round compared to last year because of that effort and the government’s approach. In the first three months of the wheat production, there was indeed uninterrupted red of utility supply. […] we had some challenges later in the season but it was far much better compared to last season,” he says.

Agricultural extension officers, under the ministry of lands, who support farmers were also given a boost this season. “We put resources towards capacitating our extension delivery system in Zimbabwe because we believe that it is one of the fundamental ingredients to the agricultural sector. Our extension officers for the first time in many years now have motorcycles to improve mobility,” Bhasera says.

New wheat farmers

Wheat is a technical crop: Factors like disease pest control, irrigation scheduling, and planting time are vital to achieving a bumper harvest.

“We made sure that [during the] pre-season all the farmers were equipped with the much-needed technical support to do with wheat production, including smallholder farmers [who are] beginners in wheat production,” says Bhasera.

Contract farming is the way to go

“Our target hectarage entailed that we had new wheat farmers, so we needed to train them and to refresh even those farmers who used to grow wheat previously.”

Justiel Chikohora, a farmer in Bindura, says he ventured into wheat farming this season and his success is ascribed to the support rendered by the financial institutions.

“I planted wheat on a 60-hectare piece of land with support from AFC Bank under a government programme. They gave me inputs in time, thus I had enough time to plant. I harvested an average of 6,5 tonnes per hectare,” he says.

“Contract farming is the way to go.”

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