THE Agricultural Rural Development Authority (Arda) has set a target of 200 000 metric tonnes for its winter wheat crop in bid to revive the country's self-sufficiency and reduce imports.
Zimbabwe requires in excess of 400 000 metric tonnes annually, but local farmers have over the years failed to meet the demand, forcing the country to resort to imports.
"We need 400 000 metric tonnes, that's our budget for consumption and this year we want to do 50 percent of that if we can. We want to do up to 200 000 metric tonnes to eliminate imports," ARDA chairman, Basil Nyabadza, said.
Nyabadza said over six ARDA estates will plant the winter crop this year, with help from partners.
ARDA farms cover 98 000 hectares of land.
ARDA estates in Ngwizi, Antelope Estate in Maphisa and Gweru's Fair Acres among other estates have been earmarked for winter this season.
Antelope Estate in Maphisa topped with 400 hectares of the winter crop last season.
Wheat production has declined over the years with last year's winter crop statistics indicating production output of 60 000 tonnes.
However, independent statistics show that wheat production was pegged at 30 000 tonnes.
The country consumes about 25 000 tonnes weekly and is heavily dependent on imports.
Zimstats data show that Zimbabwe imported 94 265 tonnes of wheat mainly from South Africa, Russia, Mauritius, Canada and Mozambique last year.
Wheat flour imports mainly from South Africa reached 48 436 tonnes making Zimbabwe a net importer.
Dwindling local supply of wheat has spiked costs of production for players in the bakery industry amid critical shortages of hard currency.
Nyabadza said the Public Private Partnerships had borne fruit, with more private players showing interest in wheat production under the command agriculture scheme mooted by government last year.
"The preparations are going well. We have to perform to eliminate as much imports as possible and I'm pleased that support from government and players is healthy," said Nyabadza.
Most ARDA estates have been lying idle over the years due to mismanagement and corruption, but buoyed by the command agriculture where 2 000 farmers are expected to carry the responsibility of feeding the nation, the estates are expected to thrive.
"We are targeting to double our own position as ARDA and our partners. We trust that the command agriculture will introduce a new dimension, to propel production so that we become self sufficient in the shortest possible time," Nyabadza said.
Last season, most ARDA estates improved capacity from 3,1 tonnes per hectare to 8,1 tonnes per hectare.
The 2015/16 farming season saw fewer farmers taking up wheat due to increasing costs of growing the winter crop, hence farmers were unable to meet local demand.
According to the Global Agriculture Network (GAIN) report of 2016, wheat production in 2017 is expected to remain subdued due to lack of viability as farmers move to cash crops such as tobacco.
But farmers will find solace in a good rainy season and a US$500 per tonne incentive from the Grain Marketing Board.
The incentive is meant to improve wheat remittances to the national silo.
ARDA said it would open up more land for wheat production this year to meet the target set by government.
"We have six estates on wheat with partners and overall we are opening up additional land. So we can say we have a 100 percent improvement from where we were last year. We believe that the momentum created so far will be maintained for the good of Zimbabwe," said Nyabadza.
Wheat production has plummeted over the years with 2001 being the peak of production where farmers harvested 314 000 tonnes.
The lowest was 2013 where farmers produced 24 000 tonnes as farmers moved to cash crops.
Local farmers have been reeling from government's failure to finance wheat production, with a large chunk of the budget going to maize and cash crop tobacco.
ARDA operates 26 large-scale estates, which are heavily mechanised with irrigation equipment and government invested heavily in the entity to participate productively in agriculture.
Its mandate is to ensure food security and rural development.
Due to high cost of production, financial constraints and poor viability wheat production in the country has declined with other private sectors introducing wheat contract farming to boost production.
Generally, farmer confidence in wheat production is low due to historical problems with power outages during the winter production period.
Traditionally the milling industry has imported about one third of its requirements for mixing with the local flour, as the local grain is soft and has poor baking quality. Imported wheat currently makes up more than 90 percent of national wheat requirements.