Is Wheat Self-Sufficiency for Africa Within Reach?
“It’s possible to achieve wheat self-sufficiency in the coming 5 years in Ethiopia and Sudan,” according to Dr. Wuletaw Tadesse, principal scientist and lead bread wheat breeder, ICARDA, Rabat, Morocco.
Dr. Tadesse leads the ICARDA spring bread wheat breeding programme which is focused on developing high yielding and heat tolerant wheat. More than 60 bread wheat varieties developed through ICARDA have been released by national programmes in Africa, including in Ethiopia (ten) and Sudan (five) in the last seven years. It has resulted in the expansion of wheat farming by over 377,000 hectares and an additional estimated production of 1.22 million tons.
This project is one of the finalists for the 2021 Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security, which aims to support scientific research that can deliver transformational impacts within global agriculture. Awarded in partnership with Agropolis Fondation, the Prize recognises an innovative scientific research project for its potential impact on the availability, accessibility, affordability and adequacy of food, in line with UN SDG#2: End Hunger. The winner will be announced this September and receive a US$75,000 grant for scaling up their proven research. An earlier iteration of ICARDA’s heat-tolerant durum wheat program won the Olam Prize in 2017.
The need for such innovations is great: although wheat is grown on around ten million hectares in Africa, it’s not a traditional crop in most sub-Saharan countries, so it’s not inherently suitable to the climate nor do farmers have experience growing it, and the climate continues to change.
Perhaps not surprisingly, wheat imports account for 60% of the continent’s wheat consumption and about a third of total food imports. With wheat consumption expected to grow by 45% by 2025, it could mean that more than 80% of all wheat consumed in Africa is imported.
“Our project funded by the African Development Bank started with thousands of breeding lines which we reduced to the 15 that offered the best combination of high yields and heat tolerance”, Dr. Tadesse explained. “Three sets were distributed for testing in 12 countries and the best candidates were then distributed to ‘hub project sites’ in Sudan, Nigeria and Ethiopia, where clusters of farmers, millers, banks, scientists and other stakeholders across the value chain work together to offer support from production to market.”
As of last year, it’s estimated that more than 76,000 tons of certified wheat seed were distributed in Sudan; and in Nigeria, more than 26,000 tons of certified seeds were distributed to more than 260,000 wheat farmers. In Ethiopia, more than 24,516 tons of certified seeds of newly released heat tolerant wheat varieties have been produced and distributed to more than 251,000 small scale farmers.
“We’re showing what’s possible, but what’s necessary is that we ensure the availability of improved seeds. That means recruiting and educating youth groups to establish small scale seed farmers in addition to experienced seed growers so that quality seed production will become a thriving business scheme.”
If you’d like to know more about this project or get involved, please contact W Tadesse or Z Bishaw below.