Winter wheat: Government prioritises domestic production


Following the declaration of a state of disaster (April 3, 2024) due to drought, the Government of Zimbabwe has embarked on an aggressive wheat-based food security program this winter. It has prioritised winter wheat cultivation to address looming food security concerns.

Zimbabwe became the third country in southern Africa - after Zambia and Malawi - to declare an emergency.

Winter wheat is an annual staple crop, second in national importance only to maize. It has a planting window from mid-April to the last week of May, but this window was, this year, extended by two weeks to June 14. The Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development cited the reason as the late start of the 2023/24 agriculture season and the subsequent delay in harvesting the summer crop.

Planting target

The winter wheat planting target was set at 120,000 ha (from a total of 137,000 ha of irrigable land available across the country) and a national yield was set at 600,000 tons (giving an average yield of five tons per ha).

With the 120,000 ha wheat planting target having been met and surpassed (121,769 ha planted, according to government sources), the focus now shifts to good agronomic practices (GAPs) to maximise yield potential.

To further safeguard and maximise yield, the Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Permanent Secretary, Professor Obert Jiri assured farmers that all necessary steps have been taken, including quelea control and protection; guaranteed with the use of drones, vehicle-mounted sprayers and access to aircraft.

Ring-fencing of electricity for contracted wheat farmers’ irrigation requirements has been done by ZESA.

Water management measures taken by government bodies like Zinwa include reduced tariffs, adjusted water usage, and provision of sufficient water for irrigation through strategic planning and monitoring.

There is sufficient water is available for irrigation needs. "Zinwa has looked at every hectare and every farmer to see how much water is required to successfully achieve the targeted 120,000ha of winter wheat.

"It has reduced tariffs by 33 per cent and it has allowed farmers to pay their bills at the end of the season," said Professor Jiri.

Zinwa had also reduced the usage of 7,5 megalitres per ha to 5 mega litres per ha to make sure that farmers have sufficient water for wheat production.

Speaking at a wheat conference towards the end of May, Zinwa chief executive Engineer Taurayi Maurikira said water could only be a key enabler if its use was properly planned.

"We have enough water to do 141,000 ha but for planning purposes, farmers should register. It is illegal to abstract water without an agreement," he said.

Planting to barley (primarily grown under contract to Delta) was set at 7,000 ha with 3,250 ha for winter maize/sorghum (to produce an estimated 9,750mt) and 6,750 ha for potatoes.

The wheat grown this year will not only be for human consumption but will also be used as feed for livestock, offering a supplementary nutritional option for animals when drought conditions limit grazing availability according to Professor Jiri.

Last season, Zimbabwe had an above-average season, producing 468,000 tons of wheat (grown on 91,000 ha) against an annual domestic requirement of 360,000 tons (source: Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development). Data from other sources (USDA) sets the yield lower, at 457,000 tons and it should be noted that elsewhere, domestic consumption is set at a higher 410,000 tons annually.

At the end of November 2023, stocks of 140,000 tons remained in hand in Zimbabwe, according to

In 2022, the country produced 375,000 tons of wheat.

Giving us our daily bread

Wheat is widely consumed by more than 10 million people in Zimbabwe, mostly as bread. Daily bread production is estimated at 850,000 loaves with monthly wheat consumption of about 25,000 tons (

While wheat production has increased enough to meet demand, the quality is not sufficient for bread production, meaning wheat imports are still necessary. For the last two decades, Zimbabwe has blended imported wheat from Russia, Canada and Australia with local wheat for the production of bread flour.

The nation imports about 30 per cent of its hard wheat needs to blend different varieties and produce high-quality flour, according to the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ), whose members produce 98 per cent of the country’s flour.

“The quality of our local wheat is good, compared to the regional wheat, and it is doing well in the production of biscuits and several other products,” said Tafadzwa Musarara, association chairman, in a 2023 news report. “In relation to bread, we have to mix varieties to give us good durable bread…”

The National Bakers Association of Zimbabwe said the desired ratio is 70 per cent local wheat and 30 per cent imported wheat.

The domestic milling industry is dominated by four major processors, with National Foods Holdings Ltd. the leading producer of maize roller meal, super-refined meal and wheat flour. In February, the company commissioned a new pasta line in Harare that will be the only large-scale pasta line in the country.

Market participation

The involvement of private market players, notably the Food Crop Contractors Association (FCCA), in financing and trading staple crops like wheat signifies a shift from government monopoly to a more diverse and competitive market environment.

According to, “For a long time, wheat growing and trading was solely in the hands of the government; but for several years now, private market players have been able to participate in the financing, production and sale of staple foods such as maize, wheat and soy.

“One important market player is the Food Crop Contractors Association (FCCA), a consortium made up of raw materials traders, banks, mills and other interested parties.

The report continues: “Unfortunately, the increasing domestic wheat production has a downside. The wide diversity of the domestic varieties results in fluctuating product quality. Moreover, wheat grown in Zimbabwe has noticeably poorer baking properties than hard red winter (or spring) wheat from the United States or Canada, for example.

“Where the baking industry is concerned, the partial use of domestic wheat flour makes many demands on the production of high-volume pan loaves. Mixing high-performance imported wheat with lots that have weaker protein results in changes, for example to the fermentation stability, crumb structure and size of the loaves.

On the other hand, consumers have clearly defined expectations regarding their favourite bread. Sandwich loaves must have a large volume, a fine, even texture and a soft, fluffy crumb.

“If the proportion of imported wheat is reduced, fine-tuning the flour with flour improvers is essential to maintain the expected standard of the products. Since the greater part of the flour will be used to produce sandwich loaves, emphasis must be placed on quality parameters such as volume, fermentation stability and crumb formation.”

The government's robust strategy for winter wheat cultivation shows promise in mitigating food security risks. By addressing water management, enhancing agronomic practices, and encouraging private sector participation, Zimbabwe aims to strengthen its wheat industry and improve domestic production quality. Collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors will be crucial in achieving sustainable food security and meeting the needs of the population effectively.

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