By Steve Agbota [email protected] 08033302331
AFRICA is spending over $15 billion (about N3 trillion) on wheat importation yearly, as its various component countries cannot produce enough to meet domestic requirements for consumption.
Stakeholders who met at the four-day Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops (SARD-CS) Wheat Annual Review and Planning Meeting, said there is need to increase wheat production and save funds to develop other projects.
The meeting was attended by sub- Saharan African agronomists, wheat breeders, researchers, agriculture economists and wheat farmers from Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Lesotho, Kenya, Zambia and Nigeria.
Speaking at the meeting, the Secretary of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, Ringson Chitsiko, said Africa should prioritise wheat as a strategic crop in order reduce the import bill.
He added: “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. Wheat production is a sense of urgency we need to feel and do now rather than later days or years.”
SARD-SC promotes production of food crops such as wheat, maize, cassava and rice with funding from the African Development Bank (AfDB).
SARD-CS Coordinator, Dr. Solomon Assefa, expressed his disappointment on the billions of dollars spent to import food when it would be easy to be self-sufficient. He exhorted the policy makers and other stakeholders in both the private and public sectors to work hand in hand to boost agricultural productivity.
Said he: “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 per cent 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.”
“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 is an important crop as it provides gluten protein that allows the processing of a multitude of foods such as breads and noodles.
He explained: “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 explained.