By Livingstone Marufu
Zimbabwe's winter wheat output is expected to reach 225 000 tonnes after over 45 000 hectares was put under the crop, a senior Government official has said.
High yields are expected in the season driven by adequate and consistent supply of water and electricity.
"We had initially targeted an output of 200 000 tonnes, but having seen the amount of resources coming through, we project more than that," Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development (Crop Production) Deputy Minister Davison Marapira told The Herald Business.
"Essentially, what's more important is that we have an excellent crop around the country. "We are expecting an improvement in yields to five tonnes per hectare from the previously projected yield of four tonnes per hectare due to constant electricity and water supply thus far. Therefore, we expect an output of above 225 000 tonnes."
Farmers with the early planted crop were warned against frost and qualia birds which could damage the crop and reduce yields.
The Command Agriculture programme which started this season with maize production has now been expanded to include winter wheat, with thousands of farmers having planted the irrigated crop.
Farmers were provided with all the inputs, as was the case with maize. Upon harvesting, farmers will be expected to deliver an agreed tonnage to the Grain Marketing Board as repayment for the loan advanced to them in the form of inputs such as wheat seed, fertilisers, chemicals and tillage services.
Various farmers with irrigation infrastructure have in the past failed to grow wheat because of lack of financial resources to buy the inputs, a gap that Government has bridged through the Command winter wheat programme.
Private sector companies provided $100 million for this year's wheat crop. Sakunda, National Foods, Northern Farming Company, Stay Well Company and CBZ Bank have committed to supporting cultivation of winter wheat.
CBZ has budgeted $10 million for on lending to wheat farmers at interest rates of between 10 and 12 percent.
Experts say if Zimbabwe increases production to more than 200 000 tonnes, it will cut the import bill by $70 million.
On average, the country spends $100 million annually on flour imports. Government buys wheat at $500 per tonne, while private buyers offer between $360 and $380 per tonne.