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Using wheat production statistics to attain competitive edge

Globally wheat is the second most eaten cereal to rice, and our production currently stands at 740 million tonnes per year with China in the lead. However, regionally, EU produces the most wheat. Wheat is consumed by many families and in Africa and Zambia in particular, it is the second most eaten cereal. Unfortunately, production of wheat in Africa is only a paltry 7.5 million tonnes while we consume around 25 million tonnes. We import in excess of 17 million tonnes annually from Europe and America. In Africa, the largest grower of the crop is Ethiopia (1.7 millio ha), South Africa (0,5mio ha), Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It is possible that we could have gone over Zimbabwe because of the land issues they had. Globally, the top ten producers are China, India, Russia, USA, France, Australia, Canada, Pakistan, Ukraine and Germany, in that order. It is interesting to note that countries like Pakistan which are a desert produces 27 million tonnes compared to Zambia which produces only 310,000 metric tonnes from about 18,000 hectares of land. In the region, South Africa produces the most at about 2 million tonnes. It cultivates both dryland and irrigated wheat.

It is gratifying to note that even if South Africa cultivates half a million hectares of wheat, their productivity is very low at between 3 to 4 tonnes per hectare compared to Zambia’s average yield of between 6, 5 to 7, 6 tonnes per hectare. In the sub region, Zambia’s productivity is the highest. We enjoy a better comparative advantage over South Africa in that our production is less affected by abiotic factors like drought and heat conditions because production is done in winter under irrigation. Additionally, there are less abiotic factors such as diseases like rust, septoria and fusarium as opposed to what you may find in South Africa and worse off in Europe and America. To control diseases, farmers in Europe spray a minimum of four applications of fungicides to effectively remain above board with diseases, while in Zambia we most do two to three applications at most.

In the region, we are the only country that under normal circumstances doesn’t import wheat. We have been self-sufficient for a very long time. Wheat is the only crop amongst the three that is cultivated by commercial farmers which gives them a better return on their investments. If we consider the production statistics in the region, all countries in the sub region with an exception of Zambia import wheat from South Africa. Mozambique, Malawi, Botswana and Namibia do not have even hectare of wheat; they all depend on supplies from South Africa. Mozambique has about 36 million people, Malawi has 19 million, Namibia and Botswana each has about three million people and Congo has over 87 million people. The yield that South Africa churns from its half a million hectares under cultivation is not enough to supply 146 million people in the five countries plus the sixty million South Africans locally. South Africa has taken advantage of the cheap wheat from Russia and Ukraine, which they import, mill and supply the countries in the region to supplement what they produce. You may be aware that South Africa is drier than Zambia though they have improved irrigation infrastructure than us. Suffice to say they also cultivate wheat on drylands as opposed to us that produce it all with irrigation. Countries like Malawi, Namibia and Congo can easily be supplied with wheat by Zambia because they are nearer to us than South Africa. What has been constraining the farmers from supplying these countries is the import as well as the export ban instituted by the government. We could have done things differently, by allowing the commercial farmers to export even as low as thirty per cent of their total production to encourage earning forex. This could have triggered the farmers to increase the area under production and can easily cultivate a million hectares in a short period of time. If we cultivated a million hectares at an average yield of seven tonnes, we could have an excess of 6.8 million tonnes which we could export and realise not less than US$3.2 billion in sales; this value can even go up if we only allowed the export of flour. Many of the farmers are slowly shifting from cultivating maize and soybeans to plantation crops because of our poor policies which have made the cost of inputs dear. I still don’t believe that we are still allowing this opportunity to slide off our hands when we need money. We complain of the market yet we have abundance of it around us! As long as we do not allow the export of our products, agriculture will never grow beyond what it is today in this country. This is 2020, let us sit down and revisit our constraining policies in agriculture. With good policies, we can easily have twenty companies operating like Zambeef. We can easily produce enough to feed the region and export some to China or Dubai.

The author is an agribusiness development consultant, ftembo2001@gmail.com./SM

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