Dwindling wheat farming in Malawi

April 7, 2020
| Report Focus News

Wheat production in Malawi has dwindled over time, much as the crop demand is over 100,000 metric tons per year, the country’s major raw material for flour production is slowly becoming 99 percent imported. 

In Malawi, Wheat is favourably grown in districts such as Mzimba, Rumphi in the northern region, Mwanza, Neno, Mangochi, Mulanje, Blantyre and Chiradzulu, in the Southern region, and Ntchisi district in the Central region.

However, wheat production from the whole districts remains below 5,000 metric tons per year with an average yield of 974 kilograms per hectare, which is far below the consumption demand of over 100,000 metric tons by companies.

Though Malawi wheat production has fluctuated substantially in the recent years, it tended to increase through 1968 – 2017 period, but only 745 tons was realized.

Unavailability of wheat production technologies among other efforts to boost Wheat farming and Lack of stable and viable market for the crop has led to sharp decrease of production with over 35 percent since 2014.

One area where wheat was grown in large quantities was Neno district. But due to poor organization of the farmers and lack of consistent marketing has led to decline of crop in the district.

Agricultural Extension Development Officer for Neno Extension Planning Area (EPA), Masautso Dzumani said wheat production has gone very low due to disorganization of farmers growing the crop.

He said some time back, there was a project which supported the farmers with various trainings and techniques on how to grow the commodity to meet the needed quality standard on the market.

“The project really assisted the farmers with new Kenya Nyati variety from the country of Kenya and it helped farmers made huge profits, unfortunately, when the project phased out, the farmers sold whole Lot of wheat including the seed which resulted to them go back to square one.

“Currently the farmers have started to re-organize themselves but the yield can no longer be a priority for marketing because it is a mixture of varieties unlike the previous Kenya Nyati variety which fetched high profits for them,” said Dzumani

Dzumani said as an agricultural office they are enforcing irrigation farming so that the farmers should not rely on rain fed agriculture alone but should also learn of climate smart agriculture and seed multiplication to avoid seed loss.

District Agricultural Development Officer for Rumphi, Lumbani Msiska said wheat farming is going down because of marketing challenges.

Msiska said previously, Rumphi district with support from Farm Income Diversification Programme (FIDP) produced a lot of wheat in Ntchenachena and Mphompha Extension Planning Areas (EPAs) but challenge was market.

“In Rumphi we could produce 2 tons of wheat per hectare but farmers were not able to sell the produce and as such production gradually dropped to 1.5 tons per hectare, and this too has led to reduction of hectarage from 60 to about 5 hectares.

“We have so far taken an initiative to facilitate formation of cooperatives in the two EPAs and also trainings in agribusiness to build capabilities of smallholder farmers in production and marketing,” said Msiska

In the Central region part of Malawi, Ntchis districti, wheat farming has also come to a halt citing marketing challenges.

District Agricultural Development Officer for Ntchisi, Siliro Magomero said currently there is no wheat production.

He said previously, wheat was extensively grown in the district but due to market farmers completely stopped and production crushed.

Magomero said there is need for concerted efforts from different concerned stakeholders to revamp wheat production in Malawi.

“We need a big effort and strategies to revamp wheat production because we will be taking off from zero ground of which needs a concerted approach from concerned stakeholders,” he said

Bakhresa Company which is the biggest buyer for wheat in Malawi decried dwindling wheat production in Malawi.

Sales Manager for Bakhresa in Malawi, Elias Nyirongo said wheat production has completely decreased to less than 10 tons per year.

“We can say there is no wheat production we are completely importing from outside the country. We are milling everyday but in Malawi the highest we can get is around 10 tons,” said Nyirongo

Communications officer for the Ministry of agriculture, Priscilla Mateyu said the research department is working on a number of crops to come up with varieties which are suitable and high yielding and conform to the requirements of targeted buyers.

Mateyu said Farmers are encouraged to be organized and form Cooperatives or associations so that they have bargaining power in terms of winning the market.

“Our appeal is that Miller’s should support farmers and buying all their output in whatever percentage so that they progressively see value in investing in this crop rather than for Miller’s importing 100 percent.

“We challenge wheat farmers to produce even more; it is possible on demand for the Ministry to provide the farmers with irrigation facilities to supplement residual moisture. Farmers can also introduce wheat in some of the already existing schemes where wheat can do better,” said Mateyu

She said the Ministry is promoting production of wheat under irrigated farming and breeding varities which are demanded by the end users.

International collaboration in wheat breeding research — the heart of the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) — makes an invaluable contribution to global food security, especially for the 2.5 billion people who depend on wheat for their livelihoods.

A recent impact study found that global Semi-Arid Wheat Yield Trials, conducted in diverse growing environments in more than 66 countries, improved yields by 1.6 percent each year over the past 12 years, surpassing previous yield gains by nearly one percent.

A revolution in phenotyping — using state of the art technology to measure traits and breeding performance — allows researchers to accurately and efficiently identify positive traits, speeding up breeding for greater yield and heat and drought tolerance.

The newly-mapped wheat genome promises to drive even faster development of high-yielding, climate- and disease-resilient wheat varieties.

Nevertheless, there is need for deliberate effort by Ministry of Agriculture to promote wheat farming in Malawi, by among others encouraging farmers to practice irrigation farming, linkage of farmers to stable market and seed multiplication so that production will not completely come to a halt.