By Bester Kayaye
Agricultural experts have advised government to consider reintroducing wheat production in an effort to mitigate against the economic impact of importing the cereal which has seen a drastic rise in the prices of bread and other confectionaries cross the country.
Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Moses Maliro, says the consumer price index for local bread continues to widen due to forex scarcity and the on-going Ukraine and Russia war, which are major global wheat exporters.
Wheat is a cereal crop consumed by over 2.5 billion people globally. The current demand for wheat in Malawi is estimated to be 200,000 tonnes per year with a projected growth in consumption of 3%–6% annually.
Bread prices in Malawi have doubled in the past few weeks to K1, 000.00 with the 50 kilogram bag of bread flour now selling at K48,000.00 from K36,000.00.
According to Prof. Maliro, the current wheat supply and demand gap is wide with 99% of the wheat being imported due to low domestic production. The imported cereal is spread throughout the value chain from the importers to millers, bakeries, biscuit manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.
“45% of milled flour is utilised by commercial bakeries, 46% is distributed to rural and urban outlets and biscuit manufacturers utilise 9%,” he says
Maliro notes that lack of stable markets and a national wheat development strategy are some constraints suffocating wheat production in the country.
“Production constraints include the lack of a national wheat development strategy, lack of stable markets, unavailability of improved varieties, low input use and limited knowledge in the management of wheat crop,” he says adding that currency devaluation and limited forex reserves further affect the annual import volumes and prices of wheat flour on the domestic market.
The professor suggests that domestic production and broad value chain opportunities could be increased through policy support, including research for development, expansion of production into non-traditional wheat growing areas, investing in irrigation and developing market systems.
Meanwhile, LUANAR, in partnership with University of Nottingham, UK, are supervising a local PhD student who is magnifying the local wheat production in a quest of developing ideal wheat varieties suitable for local malnutrition population.
Statistics indicates that wheat imports are projected to rise to 63 MT by 2028. Although total production increased from 19.6 MT in 2008 to 29.2 MT in 2019, and the total area under wheat increased from 8.5 to 10.2 million hectares, domestic supply is still much lower than demand.
A 2018 USDA report on global wheat imports shows that the sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region has been a major driver of rising global wheat trade over the last decade. The year-over-year growth in wheat imports for SSA is greater than any region across the globe. Current annual production in SSA is approximately 7 MT which accounts for only 28% of total annual demand.
Agricultural systems of Malawi are dominated by maize and the wheat value chain is driven almost entirely by imports, which currently represent greater than 99% of demand.