By Leonard Masauli, MANA
Wheat demand is over 100, 000 metric tons per year in Malawi but the country is failing to produce locally to meet the demand for the major raw material for bread and cake flour production.
Locally, wheat is favourably grown in Mzimba, Rumphi, Mwanza, Neno, Mangochi, Mulanje, Blantyre and Chiradzulu districts.
However, the districts’ combined production is below 5,000 metric tons per year with an average yield of 974 kilograms per hectare. This is far below the consumption demand of over 100,000 metric tons by companies.
The country’s wheat production has fluctuated substantially over the years in that only 745 tons were realised from 1968 to 2017.
Unavailability of wheat production technologies among other efforts to boost wheat farming and lack of stable and viable market for the crop has led to sharp decrease of production with over 35 percent since 2014.
Agricultural Extension Development Officer for Neno Extension Planning Area (EPA), Masautso Dzumani says wheat production has gone very low in the district due to disorganisation of farmers growing the crop.
He says in the past there was a project which supported farmers with various trainings on wheat farming techniques to meet the needed quality standard on the market.
“The project really assisted the farmers with new Kenya Nyati variety from Kenya and made huge profits’
“Unfortunately, when the project phased out, the farmers sold whole lot of wheat including the seed which resulted in them going back to square one,” Dzumani said.
He added that the farmers have started to re-organise themselves but the yield can no longer be profitable because it is a mixture of varieties.
Meanwhile, Dzumani says, as an agricultural office, they are enforcing irrigation farming so that farmers do not rely on rain-fed agriculture alone.
“We want them to learn climate smart agriculture and seed multiplication to avoid seed loss,” he said.
But District Agricultural Development Officer for Rumphi Lumbani Msiska says wheat farming is going down because of market challenges.
Msiska says, previously, Rumphi District with support from Farm Income Diversification Programme (FIDP) produced a lot of wheat in Ntchenachena and Mphompha Extension Planning Areas (EPAs) but the challenge was market.
“In Rumphi we could produce two tons of wheat per hectare but farmers were not able to sell the produce; as such, production gradually dropped to 1.5 tons per hectare,”
He said lack of markets has also led to reduction of cultivated land from 60 to about 5 hectares.
“We have so far taken an initiative to facilitate formation of cooperatives in the two EPAs and conduct trainings in agribusiness to build capabilities of smallholder farmers in production and marketing,” Msiska says.
In Ntchisi, wheat farming has also come to a halt citing marketing challenges.
District Agricultural Development Officer for Ntchisi, Siliro Magomero says, currently, there is no wheat production.
He says, previously, wheat was extensively grown in the district but farmers completely stopped due to lack of markets.
Magomero says there is need for concerted efforts from different stakeholders to revamp wheat production in the country.
“We need a big effort and strategies to revamp wheat production because we will be taking off from zero ground of which needs a concerted approach from concerned stakeholders,” he said.
Bakhresa Malawi Limited, which is the biggest wheat buyer, decries dwindling production in the country.
The company’s sales manager Elias Nyirongo says wheat production has completely decreased to less than 10 tons per year.
“We can say there is no wheat production in the country because we hugely import. We are milling everyday but in Malawi the highest we can get is around 10 tons,” Nyirongo says.
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Communications Officer Hamilton Chimala says the research department is working to come up with suitable and high yielding varieties that conform to the requirements of targeted buyers.
Chimala says farmers are encouraged to form cooperatives or associations so that they have bargaining power in terms of winning the market.
“Our appeal is that miller’s should support farmers by buying all their produce in whatever percentage so that they progressively see value in investing in this crop.
“We challenge wheat farmers to produce even more; it is possible on demand for the ministry to provide the farmers with irrigation facilities to supplement residual moisture.
“Farmers can also introduce wheat in some of the already existing schemes where [it] can do better,” Chimala says.