Food security is a prime goal of any nation with the intention of guaranteeing access to food for all and its timely availability. Wheat is an important staple crop to most of the world’s population. Its demand is predicted to increase in the future as the global population increases.
Similarly in Eritrea, it is one of the highly demanded cereals. But domestic production has been fluctuating and generally it is lower than the consumption demand and thus the rest is imported. Therefore a sound wheat production policy is very imperative to secure its availability.
In Eritrea, in order to save the import of wheat in hard currency, different mechanisms have been sought to improve the domestic yields of wheat.
Wheat is sown around 20 – 30,000 hectares of land annually nationwide. But the harvest is unpredictable because it’s dependent mainly on rainfall. For instance, in 2014 around 30,661 tons of wheat were harvested from 22 thousand hectares of land. But in 2015 it fell by 8,495 tons. The main cause of reduction for the yield was the El Nino drought that hit the Horn of Africa heavily in 2015.
In order to face these kind of challenges and in a way to ensure food security, different institutions has been set up in different corners of the country.
The National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) is one of them. NARI is a semiautonomous unit of the Ministry of Agriculture and by far the largest agricultural research agency in Eritrea.
This institute follows an impact oriented approach in its studies. By considering the vast arable land for wheat and the nature of rainfall in our country, it has launched a research project and extension service on wheat that best suits Eritrean farmers, reaps higher harvest and resists drought with the aim of improving production both in quantity and quality.
The traditional crop of wheat in the highlands of Eritrea is harvested up to 11 quintals from a hectare. But farmers are able to harvest up to 60 – 80 quintals from a hectare using the crops developed and selected by the NARI.
Similarly, it was tried in the Gash Barka region and produced a satisfactory harvest (up to 55 quintals from a hectare). However, to sustain this result, farmers must utilize the seeds selected and developed by the NARI. Food security can be secured through, especially targeting small farmers’ productivity and putting emphasis on major wheat-growing areas.
The basic aim of the wheat project is to develop improved wheat breeds, species and technologies that will make wheat production higher. These should be seen in connection with the following three factors: the first is developing modern technology which helps to develop seeds that tolerate droughts, abiotic stresses, pathogens and pests. The second is advertising the wheat seeds that have been developed with help of technology using the media, workshops and pamphlets. The third important factor is the human resource development. The project’s report indicates that around 250 farmers, agriculture professionals and co-partners were given courses related with their activities.
The Ministry of Agriculture announced “Farmers Day” in 2004, which is observed twice a year touring in the fields. The purpose is to promote sharing of experiences among the farmers and agricultural professionals and also to see the competence of the selected seeds on the ground.
These year, it was commemorated in the farm of Mr. Kibrom Ghebrehiwet, a member of the project of producing the selected wheat seeds in Adi Gheda. The objective of the Adi Gheda project is to distribute selected seeds to farmers and then redistribute the produce to more farmers.
The kind of wheat sown in Mr. Kibrom’s field was HI type of wheat. This is classified as summer seed and winter seed. He is maintaining his field in consultation with NARI experts. According to the managers of the project, the selected HI type of wheat can yield up to 50 quintals a hectare.
Mr. Kibrom told us that in relation to the traditional seed of our country, the selected wheat seed was better in quantity and quality and the duration to harvest it is shorter than the traditional seed. The traditional wheat seed of our country requires more water, its’ very light and the harvest is not more than 5 quintals a hectare.
Furthermore, the harvest that comes from the seeds given to the farmers for trial are sold to the institution at a price 25% higher than the market price. And the collected harvest is redistributed to farmers.
For a farmer to be qualified to enter the project, he/she must have a garden and he/she must also be hard working and experienced. The National Agricultural Research Institute on its part assists the farmers starting from distributing the seeds until the crop is harvested using tractors, fertilizers, insecticides and other technical expertise.
Agricultural professionals monitor the development of the crops routinely and it was recommended, on the occasion, these type of cooperation to continue. The Adi Gheda project comprises the areas of Tera-emni, Emni-Xelim, Dbarwa and Adi Gheda.
Mr. Mehari Gherezgiher, seed science professional and coordinator of the project, indicated that they have tried this three times within six months in the farms of 20 members. The project in Adi Gheda is distributing the HI type of wheat seed for Pasta, the Sidra and Gomria types of seeds for bakery purposes.
Continued progress in wheat development and ensuring it has the best possible impact, will depend on the sharing of best-practices among all farmers.
This year’s winter Farmers Day was commemorated in the presence of experts from the National Agricultural Research Institute, farmers, and other partners on 29th March, 2017.