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Malawi Makes First Large-Scale Wheat Harvest

Malawi has made its first successful large-scale harvest of wheat after years of attempts to find a variety of grain suitable for its soil.

Wheat farming is seen as a solution to mitigate the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on grain imports to the African continent.

Ronald Ngwira, chief executive officer of Malawi-registered U.S. company Pyxus Agriculture Limited, which operates a farm in central Malawi for the diversification of wheat seeds, said about four varieties of wheat have been found suitable for Malawian soil out of about 80 varieties which had been tried since 2019.

Speaking during the start of the first large-scale harvest over the weekend, Ngwira said the wheat farming will help Malawi save millions of dollars spent on wheat imports.

“Malawi imports 200,000 tons of wheat at $48 million. To get there, it could take us four years to produce enough wheat in Malawi to satisfy ourselves,” Ngwira said.

“Four years might be seen as a long time, but we are already there and will have the seed available.”

Agriculture experts in Malawi say wheat farming is expected to produce about 90 metric tons, which is 50 percent of the country’s wheat consumption.

Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera witnessed the harvest Friday at Mpale farm in Dowa district.

“Wheat farming can enable Malawi to be self-sustaining. But this will require each one of us to work hard to achieve the desired results. Let us all make a move toward that goal by even using modern technology,” Chakwera said.

Malawi has long been heavily dependent on imported wheat, and the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has disrupted food supply chains. According to the United Nations, Africa takes up 12.26% of grain imported from Ukraine.

A U.N. report notes that the Russian invasion of Ukraine triggered a shortage of about 30 million tons of grain on the continent, along with a sharp increase in cost.

“If we can find markets, it can be another source of forex in the country,” said Wisdom Mgomezulu, an agricultural economist and lecturer at Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences. “Because, as you know, wheat is among those high-value cash crops that are highly demanded in the world.”

Mgomezulu said to achieve this, Malawi needs to find more sustainable production technologies that can give a comparative advantage, considering that there are already big players in the market.

“We need more investment in research. Let’s look for more funds and donor partners to finance agronomists and researchers who are trying their best to breed varieties that can be grown here in Malawi. But for that to be done, we need to research more investment and maybe get a share of the export market,” Mgomezulu said.

In the meantime, Ngwira of Pyxus said they are planning to plant 15,000 hectares of seed in December to prepare farmers for mass wheat production next year.

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