Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Glitch leaves Zimbabwe facing record wheat imports

Glitch leaves Zimbabwe facing record wheat imports

14:38 UK, 20th July 2011

Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of Southern Africa, faces its biggest wheat 
imports on record after bureaucratic hiccups fuelled a drop in sowings to 
their lowest levels since the 1960s.

The country’s wheat production, which reached 325,000 tonnes a decade ago, 
is set to come in at 12,000 tonnes in 2011-12, US Department of Agriculture 
attaches said.

The decline reflects in part a switch to corn, for which output looks like 
reaching a 10-year high of 1.4m tonnes, boosted by ample supplies of seed 
and a relaxation of imports curbs on fertilizer, for which the crop has 
particularly high needs.

The relaxation in nutrient buy-ins spared Zimbabwe a squeeze on ammonium 
nitrate supplies after the only domestic producer “failed to meet local 
requirements because of constraints of power outages and constant equipment 

While the country’s economy has, thanks to a policy of replacing the 
Zimbabwe dollar with the US one, shown signs of recovering from an era of 
hyperinflation, its infrastructure remains run-down, necessitating power 
cuts of up to 18 hours a day.

Distribution problem

However, the fall-off in wheat prospects also reflects the failure of a $10m 
programme announced by the government in March to support wheat sowings 
through subsidising seed and fertilizer purchases, in a programme run by the 
state’s Grain Marketing Board.

“The disbursement of inputs to Grain Marketing Board depots was delayed, and 
the majority of farmers did not have access to inputs during the recommended 
planting period,” which ended in mid-May, the USDA attaches said.

They estimated Zimbabwe’s farmers harvesting 6,000 hectares of wheat this 
year, half last year’s levels, and the lowest since 1967-68.

With production also tumbling imports were set to rise 12% year on year to a 
record 280,000 tonnes.

The country relies on South Africa for the bulk of its wheat imports, with 
Germany, Lithuania and the US also major providers over the past year.

South African rebound

The attaché estimates came shortly before South Africa raised its estimate 
for its own wheat production, which itself has declined over the last 20 
years, sapped by the better returns offered by alternative crops such as 
corn, rapeseed and soybeans.

Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the South African farm minister, pegged the 2011 
crop at 1.7m tonnes, up 300,000 tonnes year on year, helped by sowings up 
some 40,000 hectares to 600,000 hectares.

Nonetheless, South Africa too will remain a net importer, with production 
unable to cover domestic demand of about 3m tonnes.

“Therefore, taking pipeline requirements into consideration, imports of 1.6m 
tonnes of wheat are expected for the coming 2011-12 marketing season,” Ms 
Joemat-Pettersson said.


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