How Ethiopia could achieve wheat self-sufficiency

The government of Ethiopia recently announced that the country has a self-sufficiency plan in wheat production by 2022. This ambitious plan will significantly contribute in reducing the Nation’s foreign currency expenditure for importing large amount of wheat, experts say.

According to CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, although Ethiopia is the largest wheat producer among sub-Saharan countries and production is increasing, the demand still outstrips supply and the country remains net importer of the crop. As the demand increases because of rapid urbanization, climate change and the planting of same wheat varieties has also been affecting the productivity.

Dr. Eyasu Abrha, State Minister of Agriculture tells The Ethiopian Herald that the Nation is facing a yield gap of nearly twelve million quintals, which the country is forced to cover by importing the crop. Meanwhile, he says the country’s potential for this particular crop is untapped adding, “Even if our productivity reaches 35 quintals per hectare in highland and if we cover 100,000 hectares of land with wheat crop in low land areas, it would be sufficient enough to cover the local demand.” In this case, Eyasu notes that modernizing the agriculture sector is the main issue that the government is exerting effort with the plan to produce 374 million quintals in the second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTPII).

Strategies are also prepared to bring fundamental change on agricultural productions and productivity focusing on the seed sector, mechanization, timely supply of fertilizer and pest prevention. According to Eyasu, there is enabling ecology in the low land areas for wheat and other crop products. But it is necessary to consider the seed varieties, which should be appropriate for the low land areas. He says the Nation is currently drawing lessons from international practices.

On the other hand, during recent field visits, it has been discovered that soil acidity is one of the biggest challenges in some parts of the country, particularly in western Ethiopia. But it can be effectively treated by applying lime with concerted effort, Eyasu stresses. Meanwhile, Dr. Hans Braun, Director of CIMMYT Global Wheat Program says the Nation has two options to increase wheat yield.

One, there is sufficient land, which is appropriate for irrigation but the country has currently irrigated very small amount. “The other area that Ethiopia needs to widely engage is in the durum production. Ethiopia was traditionally a big durum producer. It is also the secondary origin of durum wheat. But the durum area is going down because it is not competitive with bread wheat,” he underscores. Hans notes that durum has a higher average yield potential than bread wheat in Mexico.

Mentioning CIMMYT’s forty year experience in Ethiopia and its contribution for the two fold growth in wheat production, he argues there is no reason that can prevent the country from producing higher yield of durum wheat. Kindu Tesfaye , Scientist at the Center also says Ethiopia is utilizing only thirty percent of its potential of wheat production. He also notes that the country has better opportunity than other countries. Meanwhile the complexity of the environment and ecology throughout the country could make the effort, in reaching the full potential of wheat production, somehow difficult. This is due to the fact that applying one or two technologies could not help achieve the intended goal of wheat selfsufficiency.

Researches need to be based on the particular environment and ecology because what is effective in the south may not apply in north, he stresses. The Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and CIMMYT have been working closely in more than seventy percent of the seed varieties tested in the country.

In addition, improving the varieties and breeding capacity, and bringing innovative research methods, helping the farmers adapt to climate change by recommending appropriate wheat varieties, applying land preparation techniques, crop protection practices and crop nutrient management strategies are among the major focus areas. And integrated effort from the government and development partners is mandatory.

The Ethiopian Herald, December 22/2018

BY HENOK TIBEBU

 

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