By Peter Mutai
NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Wheat farming has
the potential to feed the rising population in Sub-Saharan
Africa (SSA), a senior official with the global maize and wheat
research institution has said.
Dr. Martin Kropff, the
Director General of the International Maize and Wheat
Improvement Center (CIMMYT), said wheat crop has the potential
of forming major part of Africa’s food transformation to self
"It is unacceptable that the region still import wheat valued
at 13 billion U.S. dollars yet the demand for the product is
growing by five percent every year," Kropff said in Nairobi on
He noted that the growing annual expenditure on wheat imports
should be a key reason for strengthening collaboration,
investing in research and development and putting in place
policies that could favor domestic production.
Kropff noted that researchers at CIMMYT have developed
various wheat disease resistant varieties that thrive well in
drought prone regions of the continent.
In SSA, only 10 percent of land is used for growing wheat
with an average productivity of 2.2 tons per hectares that
accounts for 44 percent of wheat consumed locally.
The balance shows that Africa has a large potential for
economically profitable wheat production.
The low adoption is however blamed on the introduction of the
crop that positioned it as a large scale crop and non African,
hence keeping small scale farmers from growing it.
Its production had been restricted in South Africa, North
Africa and the Highlands of Ethiopia and Kenya.
But over the past two decades, its consumption increased due
to the increasing population, demographic changes such as rising
economy, urbanization and changed dietary preferences that have
made it competitive to maize, beans, root crops and indigenous
crops that are viewed as African staple food.
"The region requires small scale machinery and a thriving
insurance system to help make farming profitable and begin to
attract the youths and women," Kropff added.
Kropff revealed that CIMMYT is currently working towards
adapting successful mechanization technologies that can respond
to the needs of African small scale farmers and also ensure that
women get empowered through these technologies.
"We need to create the conditions for an efficient service
industry to emerge and develop resilient systems to address the
livelihoods of the people in rural areas," Kropff added.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and
Fisheries Willy Bett revealed that the government has embarked
on serious wheat farming to help reduce the imports that
currently stands at 70 percent.
"With the eradication of the U99 wheat disease that destroyed
farms and the introduction of new resistant varieties, local
wheat is expected to become competitive in the near future,"
He said that Kenya’s reliance on relief food has reduced
tenfold due to the introduction of drought tolerant varieties
and adoption of hybrid seeds.
He said that the government has engaged millers and
instructed them to pay farmers well so as to encourage them to
grow the crop in large hectares.
CIMMYT Regional Representative for Africa Stephen Mugo said
that the organization has spent 37 million dollars for research
on maize and wheat in Africa.
He called on the governments to utilize part of the money
used in importing wheat to meet local demand into research.
"It is time we put emphasis into growing wheat since it is a
drought tolerant crop that suits well with the climatic
conditions in the region," Mugo added.
He said that the organization has put in place surveillance
and vigilance measures against wheat diseases outbreak in Zambia
and Zimbabwe where it has not been reported.
Mugo said that wheat farming requires integrated and best fit
technologies for rain-fed and irrigated wheat systems.
"Framers require suitable technologies, high yielding
varieties, access to affordable inputs and effective and
sustainable wheat seed systems," he added.