ZAMBIA – Despite efforts to boost local production, the Zambian government has confirmed a significant deficit in wheat production for the 2022/2023 Agro season, necessitating the need to import wheat at a staggering cost of US$70 million.
According to the latest crop focus survey report announced by Agro Minister Mtolo Phiri, Zambia has again failed to locally grow enough to meet the country’s needs and recorded a wheat production deficit of about 110,000 tons.
Wheat is now a strategic crop in Zambia, especially in large cities and towns where bread and other wheat-based confectionary products are heavily consumed as part of the daily breakfast meal and cereal.
However, despite aggressive measures to increase production, Zambia which is facing economic challenges with a depreciating currency, has found itself grappling with another setback in its wheat output.
According to Zambia Business Times, with international wheat prices averaging $645 per ton in June 2023, Zambia will have to allocate a substantial budget of US$70 million to cover the costs of wheat imports.
Early this year, the Zambia government endorsed the importation of 125,000 metric tons of wheat which received criticism from the Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU).
In a statement, ZNFU president Jervis Zimba said the decision by the Ministry of Agriculture was not only wrong but a direct contradiction to what the President had been encouraging farmers to do, which was to expand wheat production.
According to the government, the current deficit is attributed to insufficient local production adding that there is a pressing need for sustainable policies and interventions in the agricultural sector.
However, the government is optimistic that moving forward, it is crucial to address these issues holistically, fostering domestic agricultural growth, reducing reliance on imports, and ensuring food security for the nation.
On the other hand, local wheat farmers reported contrasting views, asserting that the country is, in fact, self-sufficient in wheat production.
According to them, the demand for locally grown wheat, which thrives due to suitable seed varieties, is favored by millers and the consumer market. Thus, they question the accuracy of the deficit figures presented by the government.
Farmers, however, stated that Zambia is endowed with extensive water resources, large rivers and streams, and fertile soils that could be utilized to cut the existing deficit and even venture into the export market given the right policy and financing support.