The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda Tipped to Increase Wheat Production

A new study conducted by the Nairobi-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) has suggested that Rwanda has the potential to increase its wheat production.

According to the research, Rwanda has the highest average yield for rain fed spring wheat production among other countries.

The conclusion was arrived at after analyzing climate, soil and economic data.

According to the study, Rwanda can increase its production if support is accorded to farmers.

Usually, wheat production in rain-fed areas may not be feasible and often irrigation is required.

Zimbabwe is one of the most productive of the wheat-growing nations in Africa but wheat farmers there are almost entirely dependent on irrigation.

"According to this model, Rwanda is among countries with the highest projected average mean yield for rain fed spring wheat production worldwide," Hans-Joachim Braun, Director of CIMMYT's Global Wheat Programme said in an email to The New Times.

In Africa, 12 countries were scrutinised and the potential for the highest and most significant rise in wheat production was discovered in Rwanda, he said.

Other countries include Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, Uganda, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

To arrive at these conclusions, a comprehensive review of economic and agricultural research and of other relevant data to understand the dynamics of the African wheat economy was carried out.

Ernest Ruzindaza, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, told The New Times that indeed there was a detailed plan of profitable ways to expand wheat production in Rwanda.

He said the government had ventured into finding suitable and improved wheat varieties as well as advocating for improved practices for processing, storing and delivering wheat to markets.

Ruzindaza cited active regional processing plants such as Pembe and Azam which readily consume wheat produced by Rwandan farmers.

It is estimated that Rwanda produces over 100,000 tonnes of wheat annually on an approximate 40,000 hectares.

The Northern and Western provinces dominate production in districts such as Gicumbi, Burera, Musanze, Nyabihu, Ngororero and Karongi.

The study was released on Tuesday in Addis Ababa Ethiopia.

It indicates that today, the region's farmers grow only 10 to 25 percent of the production estimated to be both biologically possible and economically profitable.

"With rainwater alone, proper use of fertilisers and other investments, most of all the farmlands in the 12 nations studied appear to be ecologically suitable for profitable wheat farming," it says.

Authors of this report warned of the need for further analysis to address the economic, social and environmental impact of boosting wheat production in the rich agricultural lands of Eastern and Southern Africa.

In a statement, Bekele Shiferaw, the lead author and Director of CIMMYT's Socioeconomics Programme, said if proper investments are made, eight of the countries under study could significantly reduce their dependence on wheat imports.

"But work also suggests that fulfilling the promise of this study will require a shift in how the crop is viewed in sub-Saharan Africa and will only occur with significant support from governments and development agencies," he said.

The report comes at a time when the populations and rapid urbanisation in Africa are pushing up domestic imports of increasingly expensive wheat grain.

There is a poising threat by an ongoing lack of access to markets and the lack of support for addressing the growing needs of wheat farmers.

The study clearly points out the excellent cause for policy makers in individual countries to look carefully at the economic and food potential of this crop.

This year, it is estimated that African countries will spend about US$12 billion to import 40 million tonnes of wheat.

Analysts say if Africa does not push for wheat self-sufficiency, it could face more hunger, instability and even political violence, as bread riots in North Africa showed in recent years.

According to information provided by the Rwanda Agricultural Research Institute, wheat was introduced in Rwanda in 1920s by INEAC (Institut National d'Etudes Agronomiques du Congo).

However, in the 1950s, the crop was totally abandoned due to the absence of market and unsuitable varieties for Rwandan environments.

It reappeared later and currently is cultivated in Congo-Nile Crest, Volcanic soils and Buberuka highlands at altitudes superior to 1,900m.

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