A fungal wheat disease has broken out in the Copperbelt, raising concerns that it will affect this year’s harvest. This comes amidst simmering tension between millers and producers over the price of wheat which was pegged at US$450/per ton.
According to the Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU), the disease known as septoria is concentrated in the Mgongwe area on the Copperbelt. Other wheat growing areas reported minimal evidence of the outbreak.
“The outbreak may have an impact on the aggregate output by about 33% in some areas and up to 50% in other areas,” said ZNFU.
Zambia consumes an average of 540 000 tons of wheat per annum but last season experienced a deficit of 250 000 tons. Millers had to import 150 000 tons as a stop-gap measure. Imports were halted a week ago when the harvest of the new crop started.
According to ZNFU, the national output for the 2017/2018 season is expected to rise given the availability of electricity during the peak of the growing season. Globally, output is projected at 737.83 million tons, which will lead to prices declining.
Meanwhile, the Millers Association of Zambia (MAZ) raised concerns over the US$450/per ton that farmers are asking for their crop. “It is unfortunate that wheat producers increased their prices even before informing stakeholders how much will be harvested this season,” said MAZ Chairman Andrew Chintala.
However, Zambia Wheat Growers (ZWG) Chairman Donald Burton said the decision to increase prices took into consideration the rising cost of production.
He said wheat growers import fertiliser and chemicals from South Africa and the price of electricity had increased by 75%.