A government drive to boost Ethiopian wheat production is expected to result in a 27% increase in output this season, enabling the Horn of Africa nation to export the grain.

Economic reforms by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government include a planting campaign to wean the country off imports. The efforts have borne fruit and Ethiopia didn’t import wheat in the fiscal year ended July, helping save $1 billion in foreign exchange, according to Agriculture Minister Girma Amente. 

The ministry projects a wheat harvest of 19.5 million tons during the current season to June next year, compared with 15.4 million tons in the previous period, he said. Total consumption was 9.7 million tons in the same year, according to the minister.

Ethiopia plans to expand the area under wheat production by 37% to 5.6 million hectares in the season that began in June, Girma said in an interview at the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya. Irrigated wheat will increase by 54% to 2 million hectares, while rain-fed production will grow 29% to 3.6 million hectares.

“Our focus in the medium term is to increase production and productivity to sustain meeting our domestic demands and increase our exports,” he said. “There are requests from our neighboring countries to buy wheat from Ethiopia. We will work on this demand in the coming season and coming years.”

Import Substitution 

Ethiopia is pushing domestic production of previously imported food to shield it from the vagaries of the global supply chain, the impact of adverse weather and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The country has fully replaced malt barley imports with domestic production and now also meets 50% of local rice demand, Amente said. “We are scaling up the experience we gained from wheat to other crops,” he said.

Global wheat prices have soared since Russia ended a deal that safe-guarded the passage of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, while rice prices in Asia are at their highest in almost 15 years after India - the biggest shipper of the commodity - curbed export of some varieties.

Ethiopia is Africa’s most populous nation after Nigeria and one of the continent’s fastest-growing economies, despite constraints including six consecutive years of drought and a civil war in its northern Tigray region.