Lower sales by Zimbabwe’s biggest seed company waters down optimistic wheat forecasts

Farmers inspect wheat grain during harvest at a farm in Bindura (pic: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

Seed Co says it sold 7% less wheat seed for this year, which may temper optimistic government production forecasts for the crop.

Last year, Zimbabwe produced a record wheat crop of 375 000 tonnes as farmers increased hectarage and new farmers of the grain benefitted from expanded irrigation. The government recently projected an even larger crop of as high as 420 000, predicting that farmers will increase planting. But the latest report by the country’s biggest seed supplier, which has a commanding share of the market, may indicate a more moderate outlook for wheat.

“Winter wheat sales were subdued when compared to prior year, dropping by 7% driven mainly by high prices of inputs, unreliable power supply and uncertainty around commodity producer prices,” Seed Co says in results for the year to March, released Wednesday.

Seed sales for maize and soya grew last year, Seed Co says.

“Maize and soyabean seed sales volumes increased by 12% and 49% from prior year respectively driven by the heightened seed demand due to improved rainfall received and government programmes aimed towards ensuring food security supplemented by export opportunities across the region,” says Seed Co.

The company sold 14 051 metric tonnes of maize seed, which accounts for 52% of Seed Co’s total sales. The company sells most of its seed to Government for its farming programmes.

The growth in soyabeans seed sales is being driven by Zimbabwe’s push to cut reliance on imports of raw materials for cooking oil. Government projections are that the area under soya will increase from 52 000 hectares last year to 56 000ha this year.

Seed Co CEO Morgan Nzwere said his company has drought-resistant seed in stock to prepare for predicted low rainfall in the coming season.

“Weather forecasts are talking of El Nino in Southern Africa, which is not a good sign for us. We have to structure our sales basket appropriately, making sure we stock early maturing varieties to address the limited rainfall that is expected,” Nzwere told analysts.

He announced that the company has now entered Ethiopia, one of Africa’s biggest maize producers, after a 10-year wait for a licence there.  

“It’s the second most populous nation in Africa; they grow a lot of maize,” Nzwere said. “We have started putting a team on the ground and it will be a very important growth hub in East Africa.”

Beyond Zimbabwe, Seed Co also sells seed in Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, Nigeria and Mozambique.

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