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Think-tank sees gold in wheat production

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Local agriculture think-tank, Mwapata Institute, has said Malawi can take advantage of the Russia- Ukraine crisis to upscale wheat production for both domestic consumption and exports.

Mwapata research fellow Anderson Gondwe was speaking in Lilongwe on Tuesday when the institute released a policy brief on ‘An Assessment of the Potential for Scaling Malawi’s Wheat Production for Domestic Consumption and Export’.

Gondwe said Malawi has 30,000 hactares which are suitable for wheat production but that, last year, only 187 hactares were ultilised.

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Between 2005 and 2021, Malawi’s average wheat production has only hovered around 0.5 percent of the total domestic wheat demand seen at above 200,000 metric tonnes.

“Wheat demand is likely to rise 3 to 6 percent annually in Malawi largely driven by growths in population, economy and urbanisation. The country depends almost entirely on imports to meet the local demand, mostly from Russia and Ukraine.

“In 2020, for instance, imports from Russia alone amounted to $27 million, representing over 90,000 tonnes,” Gondwe said.

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He added that assuming that Malawi grows wheat varieties that yield three tonnes per hectare on 45,000 hectares that are planted twice a year through irrigation, the country could have the required grain in excess.

Gondwe observed that given the current excess local demand, most of Malawi’s wheat would likely be consumed domestically, but there are also export opportunities.

“Demand for wheat in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) regions is higher than production.

“Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has been identified as the major driver of rising global wheat trade over the last decade. With the rising of global wheat prices, exports would boost foreign currency earnings for the country,” he said.

The brief says there are several challenges facing wheat farming in Malawi which include limited access to improved seed varieties, high transport costs, inadequate access to reliable markets, limited knowledge of wheat production practices, over reliance on rain-fed production, low input use and lack of policy support.

Mwapata says Malawi does not have formal wheat seed production and distribution systems, adding that wheat research has received little support over the years.

It says, despite the establishment of the National Research Station for wheat in Ntcheu District in 1968, there has been little progress to breed and promote improved varieties for local and export markets.

“There is insufficient knowledge and skills on good agriculture practices for wheat production in Malawi,” the brief reads.

Mwapata Executive Director William Chadza, said informing Malawians about the policy research work the institute is conducting would help generate appetite from policy makers, development partners, private sector and the general public on what they should expect from Mwapata in the coming months.

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