Tanzania government disputes reports of fall in wheat production

What you need to know:

  • Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had projected that Tanzania’s wheat production would fallby 22 percent in 2021/22

Dar es Salaam. Agriculture minister Adolf Mkenda has dismissed reports forecasting decreased wheat production in the country, arguing that there would be an increase.

Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) report was quoted as projecting that Tanzania’s wheat production would plunge 22 percent in the 2021/22 marketing year, citing high post-harvest losses, below-average rainfall and desert locust invasion as the main causes.

However, Prof Mkenda said wheat production will actually increase due to timely government response to invasion of locust swarms and agreements reached with wheat importers to buy all locally produced merchandise at the pre-agreed price.

“To start with, the swarms of locusts that entered Tanzania in January and February, were controlled and eliminated before they could cause any damage,” Prof Mkenda said.

“Wheat production is likely to increase. We have an agreement with wheat importers to buy all locally produced wheat at the pre-agreed price that is very attractive to local growers,” he said.

The minister said because of the arrangement, the country has seen increased farming efforts shifting into wheat production.

He refuted reports that the government has asked traders and millers to source 60 percent of their wheat needs locally, rather an agreement has been made with importers to buy all locally produced wheat on pro rata basis consistent with their share of total import.

According to the report, millers, traders and processors have been directed to source 60 percent of wheat from local producers at a premium price starting in the 2021/22 production year.

The report refers to the measure as a strategy to encourage local farmers increased production and reduced the country’s dependence on imports.

“However, there is currently no evidence to suggest that Tanzania will meet its goal of reducing imports, and it is still widely believed that most wheat will be imported,” according to the USDA report.

It says wheat consumption is projected to increase by 2.9 percent to 1.2 million tonnes, with bakeries and food processors around peri-urban areas expected to reopen after closure due to Covid-19.

Wheat imports are estimated to hold steady at 1.1 million tonnes due to low domestic production and increasing local consumption, according to USDA.

According to UN Food and Agricultural Organization (Fao), Tanzania imported wheat worth $289 million a year between 2010 and 2017.

Wheat imports rose from about $158 million in 2010 to $415 million worth of wheat in 2017, said the data from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) regional office in Tanzania.

Wheat is Tanzania’s fourth most consumed crop after maize, cassava, and rice. Wheat grains account for about one third of the total food import value. Tabling the 2020/21 budget in Parliament in Dodoma last year, then Agriculture minister Japhet Hasunga said the country’s annual wheat consumption stood at a million tonnes, while production remained only 60,000 tonnes.

Prices up

A survey by The Citizen yesterday found that a kilo of wheat was selling at Sh1,500, up from Sh1,300 last month.

Traders and consumers said they were experiencing shortages of the flour in the market.

“It is not easy to access wheat flour at the moment. I just heard from our suppliers that there are some stocks of wheat flours waiting to be distributed into the market very soon but I’m not sure when,” said Mr James John, a food trader at Mwenge food market.

He said the prices of wheat flour gradually began to rise in early days of March this year.

Some food entrepreneurs said they were digging deeper into their pockets to buy the wheat flour for making food products like chapatti.

“Wheat flour prices have gone up but we still sell chapatti and other products at the same price. It’s eating into our incomes but we are struggling to retain our customers,” said Ms Khadija Juma, a food vendor at Mbezi.