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Intensive wheat farming has potential to feed Africa: says scientist | Coastweek

NJORO (Xinhua) -- Peter Njau [left], director of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project, at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) in Njoro, Kenya, is seen carrying out research in one of KARI wheat fields. NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Farmers visit a wheat stand at the Nairobi International Trade Fair . XINHUA PHOTO - CHARLES ONYANGO

Intensive wheat farming has potential to feed Africa: says scientist

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 sufficiency.

"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 Saturday.

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," Bett added.

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.

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