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NatFoods to Cultivate 5,000 Hectares of Winter Wheat in 2024

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National Foods Limited (NatFoods) plans to cultivate 5,000 hectares of winter wheat this year through its contract farming program. This initiative aligns with the Government’s goal of planting 120,000 hectares of wheat in response to the El Niño drought that damaged much of the summer crop.

Last year, NatFoods purchased 40,000 tonnes of winter wheat from its contracted farmers. The company established its contract farming unit, PHI, in 2011 to support local agricultural production.

NatFoods expects to harvest 40,000 to 50,000 tonnes of maize from the 2023-2024 summer season, having contracted farmers to plant 5,200 hectares of maize. Additionally, 2,400 hectares were dedicated to soybeans.

Increasing local wheat production is crucial for NatFoods as it invests in new production lines requiring wheat as a key raw material. The Government aims to boost winter wheat production to reduce imports and eventually become a net exporter of the cereal.

Zimbabwe currently imports wheat, particularly soft wheat, from countries like South Africa, Argentina, and Russia to cover local deficits. Hard wheat, which thrives in arid conditions, and soft wheat, suited to temperate climates, are both essential to the bakery industry.

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Efforts to enhance local wheat production involve both government and private sector initiatives. During a recent tour of NatFoods, group CEO Michael Lashbrook expressed optimism about the upcoming winter wheat season. “Through our PHI contract farming scheme, our winter wheat crop will be planted on about 5,000 hectares. The crop is just getting planted now, and I have seen numbers that look quite positive,” he said. “Improvement in local wheat production in recent years has been a welcome development, and it is important to us because we are backing our future of growing wheat here by investing in pasta.”

In addition to NatFoods’ efforts, other private sector players are also contributing to wheat production. CBZ Agroyield targets 11,500 hectares, NMBZ 2,500 hectares, AFC Land Bank 16,000 hectares, and ARDA plans 43,000 hectares in a joint venture, plus 2,000 hectares independently on its estates.

Zimbabwe’s winter wheat planting has grown from 45,000 hectares in 2020 to 90,192 hectares in 2023, yielding 467,905 tonnes of cereal in 2023, up from 375,000 tonnes in 2022.

The Government remains committed to agricultural initiatives aimed at achieving food self-sufficiency. By integrating private sector contractors to support at least 40% of their raw material needs from local production, the national blueprint, NDS 1, aims to increase food self-sufficiency from 45% to 100% and reduce food insecurity to less than 10% by 2025.

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