Sunday, October 14, 2012

EAC losing billions on wheat imports

Wheat in Africa
Proper use of rainwater and fertiliser for wheat farming in the East Africa Community will save an estimated $1.4 billion used every year on wheat imports, regional researchers said.

This money could then be invested in boosting investments in rainwater harvesting, irrigation and bulk buying of fertilisers.

Researchers estimate that the current wheat production in the EAC is about 25 per cent of the regional potential, leading to imports of 1.6 million tonnes of grain every year.

“Wheat consumers have to depend on the global market for more than half of their consumption,” said Bekele Shiferaw, director of the Nairobi-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre.

“With rainwater alone, and with proper use of fertiliser and other investments, 20 to 100 per cent of farmlands in the 12 nations studied appear to be ecologically suitable for profitable wheat farming,” notes a report by the centre on how farmers in countries like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania can use rainwater and fertiliser to increase production of wheat.

Production per country
Data from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that while Kenya produces the highest volume of wheat in the EAC, it also imports the highest amount.

The average data for the past five years with estimates of the year 2012/2013 show that Kenya produced 247,000 tonnes of wheat under an area of 130,000 hectares but imported 879,000 tonnes.

Tanzania produced 93,000 tonnes under an area of 96,000ha and imported 608,000 tonnes in the same five year average period.

Uganda produced 24,000 tonnes under an area of 14,000ha but imported 155,000 tonnes.

Rwanda produced 81,000 tonnes under an area of 58,000ha and imported 16,000 tonnes while Burundi produced 9,000 tonnes under an area of 10ha but imported 5,000 tonnes.

The average production per hectare is 1.5 tonnes/ha, with the highest being Kenya at 2.2 tonnes/ha and the lowest being Burundi at 0.9 tonnes/ha.

The United States Department of Agriculture notes that the EAC will cumulatively import about two million tonnes of wheat annually, double the total from 10 years ago due to rising population.

This means better markets for the commodity but local farmers are unlikely to benefit from this growth because of low production.

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