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Expanding wheat production in Africa

African farmers grow 44% of wheat consumed on the continent (© Petr Kosina/CIMMYT)
African farmers grow 44% of wheat consumed on the continent
© Petr Kosina/CIMMYT

At least eight countries in east and southern Africa could support significant new areas of rainfed wheat production, according to a recent report from CIMMYT. Based on a comprehensive review of Africa's wheat economy, combined with an economic and biological simulation-based model, the researchers assessed the potential for competitive and profitable wheat production in rainfed conditions across 12 countries. Highest returns per hectare were projected to come from the highlands of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, which have the most suitable soils and production conditions. Across the region, the research found that wheat farmers are growing just 10-25 per cent of what is biologically possible and economically profitable.

"According to this model, Rwanda is among the countries with the highest projected average mean yield for rainfed spring wheat production worldwide," says Hans-Joachim Braun, director of CIMMYT's Global Wheat Programme. However, he and the research team have warned of the need for further analysis of the economic, social and environmental impacts of boosting wheat production in the region, as well as the investments that would be needed. These would include significant infrastructure and technical support, including development of new varieties and a strong seed sector, effective extension systems and improved practices for processing, storing and transporting wheat. Policy changes would also be necessary, including improvements in wheat import, trade and food aid policies, to prevent local producers being crowded out of the market.

Currently, African farmers grow 44 per cent of wheat consumed on the continent, with countries spending around US$12 billion in 2012, importing some 40 million tons to make up the shortfall. According to lead report author, Bekele Shiferaw, pushing for self-sufficiency in wheat would help Africa to reduce hunger, instability and political violence, citing bread riots seen in North Africa in recent years. Farmers could gain significant income and consumers could be protected against global wheat price spikes. "The study points to the excellent case for wheat in Africa and the need for policy makers in individual countries to look carefully at the economic and food potential of this crop," concludes Braun.

Date published: October 2012


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