LUSAKA, Nov 10 - Zambia is on the brink of attaining self-sufficiency in wheat production within the next one or two years if the current trend is maintained, the Zambia National Farmers' Union (ZNFU) said Monday.
"Wheat production is without doubt one of the fastest growing commodities in the agricultural sector in Zambia," the ZNFU said in the latest edition of its monthly publication, the Zambian Farmers.
The wheat committee of the ZNFU estimated that the country's wheat production during the 2002/2003 farming season may hit 90, 000 tons, up 38 percent from last season's 65,000 tons.
The national wheat consumption is estimated by the ZNFU at 150, 000 tons.
Wheat committee chairman Peter Fisher said increased numbers of large-scale farmers entering wheat growing coupled with increased investments in central pivot irrigation systems have resulted in increased cultivation area in the 2002/2003 season.
He said there are indications that both existing and new farmers are likely to increase the area under irrigation by 2,000 hectares in the 2003/2004 season.
Fisher said several factors have been attributed to the growth in wheat cultivation area. One is that the price for maize was so attractive in the 2001/2002 season because of the food shortage that farmers went into early planted maize using central pivot irrigation systems. This allows them to grow wheat after maize.
The second reason is that there has been a remarkable drop in the cost of central pivot irrigation systems, down by as much as 50 percent in some cases. This makes them affordable to more farmers.
The third factor is that leasing finance companies have begun to accept central pivots as collateral for loans, which has improved the availability of funds, he said.
Lastly, he said there has also been an increasing number of Zimbabwean farmers coming into Zambia to grow wheat, bringing with new capital and skills.
ZNFU information officer Ndambo E. Ndambo said Zambia may eventually become a major supplier of wheat to the southern African sub-region.