Despite coronavirus-related lockdowns, travel and transport restrictions, Sudan has just recorded its largest wheat harvest. According to Sudanese officials, the nation saw a wheat production level of a 1.115 million-ton harvest from 315,500 hectares of farmland. That’s quite an improvement from just five years ago, when farmers in Sudan working about a quarter-million hectares of land harvested just 472,000 tons of the grain.
Development experts and economists say the nation is on the path to become Africa’s next wheat-sourcing breadbasket, and Sudanese farmers and government leaders are crediting the African Development Bank’s Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation program, or TAAT, for delivering the latest technology of heat-tolerant wheat varieties to Sudanese wheat farmers at scale.
“Now, we consistently have good quality wheat and in record numbers,” says Sudan farmer Daf’Allah Mohamed Ahmed, one of more than 1,400 farmers and stakeholders taking part in the TAAT program.
During a recent visit by top-level Sudanese Ministry of Agriculture officials, the Bank’s Director for Agriculture and representatives from TAAT implementing partner the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), Ahmed strolled through lush green wheat friends, gesturing for the cameras while describing his agribusiness success.
“My wheat yield increased from 2.5 tons, to 5 tons,” Ahmed says, with a big-bellied laugh and grinning from ear to ear.
Introduced in 2017 and adopted by Sudan in the 2017/2018 wheat season, TAAT is helping the country to boost yields and become self-sufficient in wheat by deploying productivity-enhancing technologies. TAAT aims to raise food output by 100 million tons and lift 40 million people out of poverty by 2025, by harnessing high-impact, proven technologies to raise productivity, mitigate risks, and promote diversification and processing.
Sudan’s bold ambition could be achievable. Agriculture makes up 40% of the national economy and occupies 80% of the workforce. Wheat, sorghum, and millet provide more than half of the calories consumed by Sudanese people every day.
High temperatures, often exceeding 38°C during Sudan’s short wheat growing season, severely limit crop performance and yield, while climate change, lower and inconsistent yields inhibit efforts, and severely reduces farmers’ incomes.
The good news is that advances in crop science mean that the situation is changing. The TAAT Wheat Compact is focusing on accelerated production of high-quality certified seeds of heat-tolerant wheat varieties and ensuring they reach farmers who need them.
In line with this push for increased wheat production, the Sudanese government, working with ICARDA and the Bank, set up eight innovation platforms to scale up innovative technologies, seed production and distribution in all of the country’s major wheat producing areas.
The TAAT scheme worked with more than a dozen private seed companies to produce more than 45,000 tons of certified wheat seed in 2018/19 – enough to cover targeted wheat production areas in the country with high-yielding seeds better suited to Sudan’s hot climate.
“Sudan is optimistically referred to as an awakening giant, and its vast plains are seen by development experts as a potential bread-basket to feed Africa,” according to a report by the Bank’s researchers.
TAAT’s work has been a critical and a defining moment in the lives of 15,000 farmers who have benefitted from the program through technology promotion field days. Similarly, farmers like Ahmed along the wheat value chain – 44% youth and women – at innovation platform sites have been trained in wheat grain and seed production, value addition, and innovation.
“To put it in perspective, the additional production will make Sudan 100% self-sufficient in wheat production and put the country in the top three producers of wheat on the African continent,” said Martin Fregene, the Bank’s Director for Agriculture and Agro-Industry.
Bank officials say successful TAAT interventions in Sudan are not unique. In Ethiopia, TAAT funds are providing 28,000 farmers with seed that can withstand the lowlands’ high temperatures. TAAT also aims to scale up heat-tolerant wheat production tenfold, creating 220,000 jobs – and doubling farmer incomes.
Zimbabwe intends to leverage TAAT to reach more farmers, as well as drive public-private partnerships and attract anchor investment, among other goals. Since 2018, TAAT has paid for the fall armyworm pesticides used to treat 1,655 tons of drought-tolerant maize seeds. More than 165,500 smallholder farmers benefited from the treated seed.
In Kenya, TAAT established partnerships with 28 seed companies: through its partnership network, the TAAT Maize Compact recorded 1,003,640 direct beneficiaries with climate smart maize hybrids.
The freshwaters of Democratic Republic of Congo provided opportunity for the TAAT Aquaculture Compact to help build a resilient private aquaculture sector. Working with aquaculture SMEs, TAAT has impacted some 2,500 people working in the fish value chain, offering training in best management and practices for fish feed, fish pond management, fish conservation and the production of fish fry.
The Bank is also working with the Zambian government, seed companies and community leaders to distribute pesticide-treated and drought-tolerant wheat, maize and sorghum to farmers. In the last two years, TAAT has provided Zambia with more than 28,000 liters of chemical used to treat close to 5,000 tons of seed that resists Fall Armyworm infestation. Close to half-a-million Zambian farmers have benefited from the treated seed.
“We need collaborating partners such as TAAT, to come in and compliment what the government is already doing,” said Alick Daka Fall, Armyworm Coordinator and Deputy Director of Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture.
These are just a few nations where TAAT interventions are making a difference. Back in Sudan, agricultural transformation and benefits of these new innovations are set to be felt beyond Sudan’s borders. In the next season, Sudan is expected to generate a surplus of seed that could help farmers in countries with similar climates, such as Nigeria, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania.
Beyond helping farmers like Ahmed in wheat production, TAAT has helped to increase yields in local staples, including maize, rice, wheat, cassava, high-iron beans, sorghum, millet, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes as well as livestock and fish.