Local cultures to save Africa

Cassava, sorghum, millet, fonio… In wartime in Ukraine and soaring food prices on world markets, should Africa rely more on its local crops to try to avoid the worst? Since the beginning of the conflict, on February 24, fears of a generalized food crisis on the continent have risen. As early as mid-March, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, warned of the danger of an attack “Hurricane of Famine” Many countries import their wheat and fertilizers largely from Ukraine and Russia.

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In recent years, the continent has purchased nearly twice as much wheat from abroad. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, eighteen African countries are net importers of wheat from Russia or Ukraine – Eritrea, Somalia and Egypt make up the top three. However, its weight in the population’s diet must be kept in mind. “The majority of grain consumed in Africa is locally produced”Jean-René Cozon, an agricultural expert at the French Development Agency insists.

Indeed, outside North Africa, wheat consumption remains marginal in most countries of the continent and remains linked above all to new consumption habits in the cities. Prices for rice are closely monitored by Sub-Saharan Africa, which is widely consumed, including in rural areas. For more than a decade, Africa has been thinking about increasing its food security by increasing investment in agriculture. Watch out for “Obsessions of Rice and Wheat”warns David Laborde, a researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

The road is still long

“Public research should focus on other local grains such as millet and sorghum, which have lower yields because they have been the subject of less investment.”continues, warning of that “Imposing it without remaining productive enough would spell disaster.” However, its advantages are well defined, such as its nutritional potential and drought resistance. Sorghum and millet are already among the most widespread cereals in sub-Saharan Africa – behind rice and maize – and are the main source of food for more than 50% of the population of the Sahel.

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Its cultivation is also one of eight priority crops identified by the African Development Bank in its strategy to transform agriculture on the continent by 2025, along with wheat, rice, maize, beans, yam and cassava. This last tuber has already grown in abundance on the continent, and the marketing of cassava flour is gradually developing. In Nigeria, their incorporation into bread has been encouraged since 2012. Millet, sweet potatoes, cowpeas: Here and there, other flours complement wheat flour, but there is still a long way to go before they are widely enforced.

“We need a lot of investments, certified seeds and irrigation systems that can increase their productivity, but also develop them on a large scale in order to stabilize their prices and make them affordable for everyone”, insists Musa Abukari, Project Manager of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Kenya. In this country, the Fund encouraged the flour-mixing policy adopted by the Government and set up a program to enhance grain production related, among other things, to sorghum and millet.

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To promote these local cultures, there are still many challenges. Many grains and plants grown in the countryside never reach the cities, due to lack of proper storage facilities and distribution channels. It also remains to convince consumers to put these products at the center of their cooking. The fund has trained 100,000 families in Kenya to use it to make cakes, pasta or bread. According to specialists, support for the private agri-food sector is also necessary in order for it to control these traditional products and contribute to their development.

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