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November 04, 2012

Contradiction between climate change findings and crop cultivation recommendations to Africa

There are now many studies which suggest that rising temperatures and reduced rainfall will make the farming of many African staples more difficult. So there is nothing particularly new or surprising about a new CGIAR study that says yields of maize, wheat and rice may significantly decrease as a result of climate change.

Among other things, the study says that in Africa maize output may decline by 10 to 20%. Irrigated wheat and rice could drop by 13 and 15% respectively in developing countries.

Yet just a few weeks ago there was a much publicized suggestion that Africa could and should be growing more wheat.

What should African countries do about wheat in light of these seemingly clashing findings?

Strictly speaking there is no real contradiction in them. The wheat study said Africa was in general only using up to about 15% of its wheat growing potential. So even if that full potential is going to be reduced, there is still a lot of scope to increase African wheat cultivation from its current low base.

But if African countries are already battling to raise lower-than-needed levels of the more basic staples, rice and maize, should they further thin their resources by significantly attempting to increase wheat production, even if they theoretically can? Would they perhaps be better advised to put all their energy and resources on increasing production of rice and maize before worrying about the 'luxury' staple of wheat?

The answers to these questions are far from easy.

Chido Makunike

African Agriculture

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