By Tafadzwa Musarara
The current Russia military onslaught will not only destroy lives and infrastructure in Ukraine, but also bring unprecedent food insecurity and social upheavals to the rest of the world. This will deliver a catastrophic impact on the world’s poorest and paralyses humanitarian work in the feminine hit regions.
Russia and Ukraine, once dubbed the “breadbasket of Europe”, account for 25% of the world wheat export supply. World wheat exports ranking places (in 2021) Russia at no 1 with USD8BN receipts per annum and Ukraine at No.5 with USD3.5BN. These two countries together with United States of America, Canada and France account for 63.8% of global wheat export supply.
Out of the ten world biggest exporters, only Australia and Argentina are not (yet) part of the ongoing disputation. Conversely, if this war escalates, top wheat producing countries will abandon wheat production and resort to combat.
Prior to this war, World Food Programme reported that the number of people facing potential starvation worldwide had already risen from 80 million to 276 million in four years prior to Russia invasion due to a “perfect storm” of conflict, climate change and coronavirus. The suspension of loading shipping vessels in this Black Sea region, by the Ukrainian army, bound to South East Asia, the Middle East and Africa spells doom and pre-empts the likelihood of food shortages, with high potency to degenerate into food riots in many jurisdiction.
Zimbabwe is one the biggest net importer of Russian wheat in the East and Southern African region. The vessels are loaded at various ports which include the Port of St Peterburg, The Port of Novorossiysk, The Port of Kaliningrad, et al. They then sail down Indian Ocean passing or stopping over Mombasa, Maputo and then Beira. Local Millers then collect from Beira and rail to Harare, through the Eastern Boarder up to Harare.
Russian Wheat account for circa 55% of our imported wheat as it is the lowest priced and rich in nutrient composition. Its mainly used to produce flour for bread, biscuits, household baking (most ideal for rural communities) and other confectionery.
Bread, in Zimbabwe, is the biggest source of Protein for ordinary household and a must have on the diet of the 2-35 age group. It has such significant social and political, history has proved that, importance in the attainment and sustenance of peace and order in any country.
Bread played a dark role in the French history. Poor grain harvests led to riots dubbed the Grande Rebeyne (Great Rebellion), as far back as 1529, in the French city of Lyon. In the 1700s, The French revolution was obviously caused by a multitude of grievances more complicated that the price of bread, but bread shortages played a role in stoking anger toward the monarchy.
In 1795, there were series of extensive disorders in Britain over the scarcity and high price of provisions, especially wheat and bread. In 1917, 90,000 men and women took to the streets resulting in the overthrow of the Monarchy.
Closer home, in 2018 bread shortages triggered riots in Khartoum, Sudan resulting in the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir.
Zimbabwe has been managing to ensure sufficient supply of bread nationwide through a number of locally made initiatives. The government sponsored wheat farming programs have recorded highest yield since the commencement of wheat farming in Zimbabwe. It is prudent that, a country with such a huge youth dividend and fast-growing population is self-contained in the provisions of cereal. Demand of wheat is growing exponentially largely due to dietary preference changes by the 2-35 age group. National wheat annual demand has grown from 300,000 metric in 2010 to 370,000 metric tonnes in 2021.
The country is currently consuming 16,000 metric tonnes of bread flour monthly, and circa 1,200,000 loaves a day. Demand for bread is expecting to increase as aggregate demand improves, owing to removal of COVID-19 induced lockdowns. Wheat constitutes 30-42% of the cost of bread.
In the past 60 days, imported wheat landed prices Harare and Bulawayo have moved from USD480 to USD670 per metric tonne, and price surges continues. The 2021 local Winter Wheat harvested saved the country USD146M and proves to be a profitable import substitution transaction. However, the country will require to import 155,000 metric tonnes of wheat to mitigate on the variance between local production and national demand. Secondly, to grist the local wheat so that it yields the quality of flour that gives us the quality bread that meets our consumers expectation.
There is need to invest more in wheat farming by improving our irrigatable hectarage from 75,000 ha to above 120,000 ha. The multiplier effect of such of investment in the economic value chains such as the wheat to bread, farming inputs, et all will spur Gross Domestic Product growth.
The Russian-Ukraine simply reminds all of us that we need to till the land and provide for our food. Geopolitics are unpredictable and mutate very fast. To date, all countries in Africa remains net importers of wheat and that situation is untenable.
We are no longer asking whether we are in a crisis, but how bad the crisis is!
Tafadzwa Musarara is the Chairman of the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe. You may contact him on email@example.com