Africa's wheat challenge

by Arvin Donley
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Africa's wheat challenge
Dr. Hans-Joachim Braun is one of the 27 renowned scientific and practical experts set to give a lecture at the Global Miller’s Symposium, on the challenges and solutions in the international milling industry. 
 
With better suited seed, modern cultivation techniques, an expanding infrastructure and improved economic and political conditions, many African countries may be able to cover their demand for wheat to a large extent by themselves. This theory is represented by Dr. Hans-Joachim Braun, Global Wheat Program Director at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). At the Global Miller’s Symposium, April 20-21 in Hamburg, Germany, the renowned agricultural expert will show how this vision could become reality. World Grain recently discussed this topic with Dr. Braun.

World Grain: Mr. Braun, Africa is currently the world’s largest importer of wheat. How realistic is it that this status quo will fundamentally change? 
Braun: By increasing the cultivation of wheat, sub-Saharan Africa could realistically become self-sufficient. Admittedly, the economic and political conditions need to be right. Massive change is needed. Among other things, the use of better seed, a higher employment of machinery, the installation of irrigation systems and new transport routes would all be important.

World Grain: What are the main points of weakness at the moment?
Braun: One major problem is that there is hardly any fertilization in Africa. It is absurd but many states have put high taxes on fertilizers. The cost of fertilizer is often two to three times higher than in Germany for example. How is a small African farmer supposed to be able to afford that? There is a clear lack of political will to support domestic agriculture.

World Grain: How are the climatic conditions in Africa? 
Braun: There are many wheat producing countries on the continent: Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Uganda, for example. These countries have sufficient rainfall to yield crops that could make them independent of food imports. Studies show that the soil is 20% to 100% suitable for successful wheat cultivation. In some regions, wheat yields of more than eight tonnes per hectare can be achieved – for summer wheat, this is at the top end even when compared globally.

World Grain: And CIMMYT is playing its part by developing improved bread and durum wheat seeds for these countries?
Braun: Correct. We are cultivating and testing new types of wheat and maize that are specially adapted to the requirements of each country. In Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, for example, resistance to pests and diseases is of particular importance. In Sudan, it is more about types that are tolerant to heat and in Nigeria, it has to do with tolerance to droughts.

World Grain: Is CIMMYT’s focus primarily on developing and emerging countries?
Braun: Primarily, yes. We cooperate on wheat cultivation programs around the world, but Africa and Asia are the focus of our work. More than 70% of all wheat types used in developing countries originate from CIMMYT strains. 

World Grain: It looks as if CIMMYT is active everywhere but not always publicly.
Braun:  In the food sector, CIMMYT is definitely one of the NGOs with a comparatively low level of awareness – the practical benefit for national economies is immense, however. Calculations have shown that, in comparison from 1994 to nowadays, cultivators have been able to earn additional income of $2.5 to $3 billion because they achieved higher yields and better results due do the optimized seed.

World Grain: Thank you very much for these estimates and we wish continued success for CIMMYT.

For more details on Dr. Braun’s paper and registration for the congress, please visit www.global-millers-symposium.com.
 
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