Harnessing the potential of irrigated wheat

Ethiopia is endowed with abundant natural resources such as vast arable land, seasonal rain, surface and underground water and huge labor with diversified agro-ecological zones suitable for the cultivation of various crops.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy and the means of living for more than 80 % of the population and contributes 79% for the nation’s foreign currency earning. To maximize the contribution of the sector to the economy, modernizing the farming system through utilizing various techniques, including irrigation, is essential.

The recent venture to produce dry-season irrigated wheat farm proved that Ethiopia can attain food self- sufficiency and garner foreign currency through exporting agricultural products.

The Ministry of Agriculture has been striving to raise wheat production and productivity since 2019. Wheat represents the fourth largely cultivated crop next to Teff, corn and sorghum. The Ministry targets to increase the volume of wheat produce and to substitute the importation of wheat.

Daniel Muleta (PhD) is working as a project coordinator in the irrigated-wheat farm at the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute (EARI).

As to him, the country has scored glittering success during the rainy season which accounts cultivating wheat ranging from 1.8 to 2 million hectares. Costantinos Berhutesfa, (PhD) a lecturer at AAU, Department of Economics, on his part told a local media that the importation of food products costs the nation staggering amount of money and recently the government has spent 700 million Dollars for importation of food to supply as aid to the drought affected people in various parts of the country.

In precise terms, the country has tried to boost wheat production starting from the Imperial era in the then Arsi and Bale provinces but currently, zones of the Oromia region which was scaled up in Wolaita. Hence, taking the lesson from the chronology, Ethiopia would have the potential to be one of the leading countries in Sub Saharan African countries in wheat production.

Feto Etamo (PhD) is the General Director of the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute. As to him, wheat was the major crop that the nation imports. During the last 10 years, in Ethiopia, the consumption culture of wheat products has been growing so as the demand for wheat also has been increasing. Therefore, to meet the demand, the government has given due emphasis for dry wheat production.

He further said that when wheat irrigation farm was began five years ago, many called it as low land wheat production. But as time passed, based on other countries’ experience, the practice of wheat irrigation has been expanded in Awash, Omo, the Southern Omo basins, Affar and Somali regions particularly in the Gode areas of Wabi-Shebele Basin. Currently, the achievement is getting scaled up nationwide.

In order to enhance irrigated wheat production, the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute conducted various research works. Studies indicate that there is a need to devise direction in how the nation could be surplus producer of wheat and self sufficient.

He also said that the government’s strategy for enhancing wheat production lies on four pillars. The first one is increasing production and productivity on the land parts of the country which are already cultivated through increasing the utilization of inputs. Secondly, by identifying vast land in the low land parts of the country where water is available in the nearest area.

The third one is farming in the wet lands where clay soil is sufficiently available. The forth one is in the place where the land is affected by alkaline substances through treating the soil. And if the practice is fully scaled up attaining food self – sufficiency will be reached.

Five years ago, when wheat farm was introduced through irrigation, it was implemented in 3,500 hectares of land and in the following year it was grown up to 20,000 hectares of land which then able to be promoted to 200,000 hectares of land.

In the initial phase, 88 % of the cultivation was implemented in Oromia State , 40,000 hectares of land is cultivated in Amhara region; 7,500 hectares of land in Afar region and 5,000 hectares of land in the then Southern State and 157 hectares of land in Sidama region. It is proved that Sidama has huge potential to produce summer irrigation wheat farm.

In the second round, in addition to irrigation, 257,800 hectares of land in the Oromia region; and 28,000 hectares of land in Amhara region was cultivated by using the rainy season water.

Assuming that the product is 35 quintals of wheat per hectare, the total yield will be 5o million quintals during the harvest season. As to Feto, in Ethiopia, per capita wheat consumption is 0.7 quintals and when it is multiplied with the number of the total population, total per capita consumption will reach to 77 million quintals. But currently, the nation produces 50 to 55 million quintals of wheat annually.

It is obvious that the nation has abundant natural resources such as sufficient land, fertile soil, and favorable weather condition, rivers which flow throughout the year. Therefore, it is possible to double wheat production by exploiting theses resources so that wheat production to be exported will also get increased.

The government intends to conduct wheat cultivation three times a year. Indeed, if some challenges witnessed in the wheat farm projects are addressed, accomplishing the plan can be possible.

Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that more than 50 million quintals of wheat has been harvested during the current fiscal year on 1.4 million hectares of land through the nation’s irrigation initiative.

Public Relations and Communications Executive Officer at the Ministry, Kebede Lakew told local media that the irrigated wheat development was initiated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Citing the ample potential of land and water in the Afar region and other low land parts of the country, he said that the Ministry has been working in collaboration with pertinent stakeholders based on the direction given from the Head of the Government.

Scaling up best practices of Afar, concurrently, Kebede unveiled that now; irrigated wheat is being developed on three million hectares of land.



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