The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Study: Africa could produce more wheat

Sub-Saharan Africa’s farmers may be growing only 10 to 25 percent of the production that research suggests is both biologically possible and economically profitable, according to a study released Monday.

“With rainwater alone, and with proper use of fertilizer and other investments, 20 to 100 percent of farmlands in the 12 nations studied appear to be ecologically suitable for profitable wheat farming, according to an analysis based on advanced computer modeling techniques,” the report said.

The study was conducted by the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (known by its Spanish acronym CIMMYT), and released at a conference in Addis Ababa. The analysis focuses on Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In 2012, African countries will spend about $12 billion to import some 40 million tons of wheat, particularly for people who live in the rapidly growing cities of Africa. Yet across the continent, which accounts for 15 percent of the global market for wheat, farmers produce only 44 percent of the wheat consumed locally, leaving Africa’s growing demand for the crop largely in the hands of global traders.

The estimated average net economic returns per hectare are highest in the highland areas of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, which have the most suitable soils and production conditions.

The study also concluded that fertilizer at the right levels could have a significant impact on yield and on profitability in most nations.

“Governments and non-government organizations must overcome the mindset that Africa is not a wheat-producing region,” said Mahmoud Solh, director general of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas.

“This study suggests that if the right things are done to support farmers, whether now or in the future, we could see a dramatic improvement in Africa’s ability to feed itself by producing major staples locally, including wheat,” Solh said.

In three countries in southern Africa — Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe — increased wheat production in rain-fed areas may not be feasible, and irrigation would be required to grow wheat in the cool winter months. Zimbabwe is one of the most productive of the wheat-growing nations in Africa, but wheat farmers there are almost entirely dependent on irrigation.