Africa spends $15 billion every year to import wheat as its countries cannot produce enough to meet domestic requirements, experts attending the ongoing four day Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops (SARD-CS) wheat annual review and planning meeting have said.
The meeting is being attended by Sub-Saharan Africa agronomists, wheat breeders, researchers, agriculture economists and wheat farmers from Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Zambia, Tunisia, Lesotho, Kenya, Zambia and Nigeria.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development secretary Ringson Chitsiko yesterday said Africa should prioritise wheat as a strategic crop and reduce the import bill.
“We should have passion. If we feel passionate about domesticating wheat on the continent we can reduce the import bill from $15 billion and use the money for infrastructural development.
“We need Africans to feel a sense of urgency. Increasing wheat production is an urgent endeavour and we cannot leave it for later time or years. We should do it now,” he said.
SARD-CS coordinator, Dr Solomon Assefa said it was unfortunate that Africa was spending billions of dollars to import food when it had the potential to be self-sufficient.
“Africa spends $15 billion on wheat imports, a trend which is expected to increase, putting the continent in an alarming position. Africa has huge arable land but cannot meet its potential. About 49 percent of the population in the region is living on less than $1.20 per day. By addressing productivity we will ensure people have decent lives. The $15 billion being spent by Africa for importing food can be spent for other developmental programmes,” he said.
Assefa urged policy makers and other stakeholders in both private and public sectors to work hand in hand to boost agricultural productivity.
“Ethiopia has registered some success in wheat production. Some countries have taken the issue of food security to a political level and have registered successes,” he said.
Wheat production expert, Dr Tolessa Debele, said wheat was an important crop as it provided gluten protein that allowed the processing of a multitude of foods such as breads and noodles.
“Even though Sub Saharan Africa has a huge potential for wheat production, wheat yields remain low and many countries are still lingering in food security. Low yields in wheat in the region is attributed to inadequate use of improved technologies and lack of innovation along the value chain.
“Innovation platforms for technology generation and adoption aim to promote problem solving by a wide range of stakeholders including researchers, extension workers, farmers, policy makers and others. This is an opportunity for all stakeholders in a particular value chain interested in a particular issue to come together and see how their work can support the people who need the technology, with everybody taking ownership and responsibility for the outcome.
“There is no other solution for Sub Saharan Africa countries than committing themselves to sustainable science agricultural development,” he said.
SARD-SC promotes production of food crops such as wheat, maize, cassava and rice with funding from the African Development Bank.
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