Ethiopia: Streamlining Summer Wheat Development to Rehabilitate Economy

Ethiopia is endowed with abundant agricultural resources because of its vast areas of fertile land, diverse climate, generally adequate rainfall, and large labor pool. The county's economy is highly dependent on agriculture, which accounts for 40 percent of the GDP, 80 percent of exports, and an estimated 75 percent of the country's workforce.

Despite this potential, however, the agriculture sector has been poorly developed. The country is known for the regular food shortage that occurred due to droughts, sudden outbreaks of natural disasters, pests, lack of rainfall, and shortage of technological advancement in the past centuries. Furthermore, the fast-increasing population with traditional farming practices is also another challenge to the agriculture sector.

Taking these challenges into consideration, the government has been implementing summer wheat irrigation development programs across the nation. According to the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR), the summer seasons farming is essential to increase agricultural products. It is also significant to produce surplus wheat that replaces the imported ones.

In order to harmonize the wheat demand of the nation, Currently, Ethiopia imports an average of 10-15 million quintals of wheat per annum, costing around 300-400 million USD which puts pressure on the already meager foreign currency reserve of the country. Hence, to minimize the imbalance between supply and demand for wheat, the government has been intensifying summer wheat development works.

Studies indicated that wheat yields under rain-fed conditions are much less than under irrigated agriculture due to highly uncertain rains. The spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall is very uneven, often failing to meet crop water requirements when required. The use of high-efficiency irrigation systems to supplement crop water requirements in case of rain failure is a viable option.

As stated by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), wheat is preferred by wealthier, urban families, who consume 33 percent more wheat than rural households. Ethiopia needs to rethink its wheat price support system, which does not incentivize farmers and benefits mostly the wealthier, urban consumers. Wheat price support subsidies could, for instance, target bakeries located in poor neighborhoods.

Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture Minister Oumer Hussein said that Ethiopia, by using various mechanisms and technology, has planned various agricultural activities to increase products. Especially, wheat productions, Conservation of natural resources, and greenery works have been given due attention.

Last year the country, by scaling the use of irrigation works, had planned to cultivate more than 180 thousand hectares, and about 94 percent of the plan had been achieved. This year summer agricultural works has been continuing through various activities, he said.

Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture State Minister Dr. Melse Mekonnen said that in this year's summer irrigation program the country has planned to cover more than 400,000 hectares of land to produce and harvest more than 18-20 million quintals of summer irrigation wheat.

"Efforts, therefore, are being made to achieve this plan by coordinating with the relevant federal and state stakeholders from the federal to the kebele level, creating a system of technical advice and monitoring by the leadership from the field to the experts and the necessary logistical and technical support.

"Over 300,000 hectares of land has been cultivated so far, accordingly, more than 209,766 hectares have been covered with seeds through irrigation. Weeding and watering the seedling's work has been also intensified," he said.

Government Communication Service State Minister of Government Communication Service, Selamawit Kassa in her part noted that the government has allocated 9.8 billion birrs for the construction of 17 irrigation development projects in this year's summer farming program. Out of the total projects, 12 are currently under construction in various parts of the country.

The government has been working tirelessly to enhance agricultural production through irrigation particularly summer wheat production taking into account the high contribution of the agricultural sector in ensuring food security and the country's independence.

Ethiopia has 5-10 million hectares of irritable land out of which only 1.2 million hectares have been developed. Besides, the government has given a great deal of attention to the development of irrigation in order to enhance the ongoing efforts aimed at ensuring the food sufficiency of the country and expanding export items.

The agriculture sector needs to be strengthened in order to cope with the effects of the war. Efforts are also underway to harvest crops in areas liberated from the terrorist TPLF group to withstand economic pressure on the country, she emphasized.

In fact, it is important to give due attention for the agriculture sector to be productive not only in Ethiopian rainy seasons but also in summertime. Because it avails the sector to be productive throughout the year across the nation where water resources are abundant.

Amhara Regional State Head of Agriculture Bureau Dr. Hailemariam Kefiawlew told local media that the region has planned to harvest 4.6 million quintals of agricultural products by cultivating 80,000 hectares of land in the summer irrigation wheat development. This will not only help to substitute imported wheat but it is also important to redress the effects of the war.

"Because the agriculture sector needs to be strengthened in order to cope with the adverse effects of the war. Summer wheat development aims to compensate for the damage caused by the TPLF terrorist crop in the region, ensure food security and replace imported produce" Dr. Hailemariam said.

The Oromia Regional State Agriculture Bureau Head Abera Worku said that the region has taken the lion's share of the summer irrigation wheat development. Work is underway, if possible, to produce 17 million quintals of wheat out of the 350,000 hectares of land prepared by the state.

"The summer wheat irrigation development is aimed at replacing the wheat that is being supplied to the drought-stricken community based on various agro-ecology. Moreover, wheat can be imported through various channels, which will cost a lot of foreign exchange. It is important to replace this imported wheat with local produce. Summer irrigation wheat development has been implemented" he said.

The summer irrigation wheat development benefits the farmers and the production of additional irrigated wheat in the area where the water resources are available is considered to be multifaceted since it enhances the efforts to replace imports, strengthens the productivity of farmers and consumers, he said.

According to the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Regional State (SNNPR) Economic Cluster Coordinator and Head of Agriculture Bureau Osman Surur, although it is not uncommon for farmers in the region to grow wheat during the summer, irrigation can be used to compensate for the missed opportunities due to insufficient water, land and labor and favorable weather conditions.

Hence, more than 400,000 quintals of wheat are being irrigated during this summer. In order to achieve the summer wheat irrigation development program, the administration has reached a consensus with the region's leaders, extension professionals, Kebele personel, and so on, he added.

Data crudely indicated that Ethiopia is the third largest wheat-producing country in Africa, next to Egypt and Morocco. About 1.8 million hectares (ha) of land is covered by wheat seeds with an estimated annual production of 50 million quintals at average productivity of 28 quintals per hectares, which has been improving constantly over the past 25 years but remains lower than the world average of 33 quintals per hectare. Thus, the government's commitment to the summer wheat irrigation development program is very important to ensure food security while defending national sovereignty.

To make the program successful the government and any concerned body must work vigorously to improve irrigation water management, facilitate pre-seeding irrigation, weed control prior and during to planting.

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