It is widely recognized that agriculture is the primary source of food supply and major contributor of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the development of most of the developing countries. In the case of Ethiopia, according to sources, around 80-85 percent of Ethiopians are engaged in agriculture, mainly in subsistence and rain-fed farming along with livestock breeding. In the meantime, around 35 percent of the population does not have access to enough nutritious food.
Having this fact in mind, the Ethiopian government is working relentlessly to change the scenario through mobilizing resources and the human capital and letting farmers use various technology. As a part the plan to fit the demand, utmost effort is being exerted to undertake summer wheat production via means of irrigation alongside river basins in lowland areas.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the summer wheat irrigation projects undergone in 12 woredas of Amhara state and 21 woredas of Oromia State are expected to realize import substitution soon.
Ministry of Agriculture Wheat Irrigation Project Coordinator, Daniel Muleta (PhD) said that Ethiopia imports 17 million quintals of wheat every year though the nation has the potential not only to substitute the import but also to export. To this end, there are vast areas of suitable land for wheat production both in the high and low lands of the country.
Currently, 30 quintals of wheat is produced per hectare using rain-fed farming but when irrigation farm is expanded the production per hectare will rise up to 50 quintals. It is predicted that this year’s summer irrigation wheat harvest would surpass the volume of the previous rainy season.
Of late, The Brussels Times, Belgium’s premier daily online newspaper in English, had covered the effort of the Ethiopia government and its people to ensure food security through wheat production, entitled “Ethiopia to boost irrigated wheat production”. It reads 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 an average productivity of 28 quintals/ha, which has been improving constantly over the past 25 years but remains lower than the world average of 33 quintals/ha.
As part of its overall commitment to boost agricultural output and ensure food security, the government of Ethiopia has embarked on its goal to achieve wheat self-sufficiency within a period of 3-5 years by expanding production in the irrigable lowland areas and increasing productivity in the rain-fed agro-ecologies of the country, the paper stated.
Despite the increasing wheat production trend in the country, the demand for it has been continuously increasing with a faster pace and still falls short of satisfying the annual need of the country. The demand for wheat is growing at an average rate of 9 percent annually, while the local production is growing only at a rate of 7.8 percent. The increasing population size, changing of food preference, low wheat production yield due to climate change and its related negative consequences are factors attributing to the gap of demand and supply.
Over the last three years, promising results have been registered in increasing irrigation-based wheat production. Last year for instance, about 600,000 quintals of wheat was harvested from the 20,000 ha of irrigated wheat land. Currently, 5-6 million quintals of wheat are expected from the 144,300 hectares of land cultivated in Afar, Somali, Oromia, Amhara, and SNNP regional states.
Ethiopia has a potential to cultivate an additional 3.5 million ha of irrigable land in the Awash, Shebele and Omo basins. Irrigation-based wheat cultivation piloted in the lowland areas of the country is now being replicated and expanded to the highland areas.
As a temporary fix, the demand gap is being bridged by importing an average of 10-15 million quintals of wheat per annum, costing around 300-400 million USD, and putting additional pressure on the already meager foreign currency reserve of the country.
Therefore, to minimize the imbalance between supply and demand for wheat, the government is heavily expanding irrigated wheat cultivation throughout the country as this enables to yield more harvest compared to the rain fed cultivation. It is anticipated that if the average productivity of wheat is increased from 28 quintals/ha to 50 quintals/ha on the 1.8 ha of land currently being cultivated, wheat self-sufficiency can be achieved soon.
On top of the focus on irrigated agriculture, Ethiopia is rolling out cluster farming system at a large scale. The cluster farming system targets smallholder farmers which are known to practice labor-intensive, fragmented and subsistence farming. The cluster farming system, apart from helping small-scale farmers to increase productivity through an adequate supply of modern agricultural inputs, it has been facilitating for the farmers to get market access by increasing quality and quantity of their production for local consumption as well as export trade.
Government’s effort to scale up cluster farming is also being supported by the development partners with programs like Agricultural Commercialization Clusters (ACC). The ACC is a five-year program that’s being implemented in Amhara, Oromia, SNNP and Tigray regions and prioritizing 10 commodities in 31 clusters across the four major regions. The ACC to a large part is being funded by the European Union and its member states (Denmark and Netherlands) and targets to double the income of 5 million smallholder farmers during the five-year period (2019/20 to 2023/24).
In order to increase the crop yield and productivity of smallholder farmers, the Government is also taking steps to mechanize agricultural practices in the country, which is still heavily reliant on human labor.
The cluster farming system, when coupled with mechanized production, not only helps modernize and increase the productivity of the agriculture sector, but also enables intensified market-oriented production practices. Hence, the agriculture sector aspires not only to bring about food self-sufficiency to the nation but also to penetrate the international market by leveraging the country’s full potential to become a large exporter of agricultural products including wheat, it stressed.
BY MENGISTEAB TESHOME
THE ETHIOPIAN HERALD MAY 28/2021