By Hope Nda, *Tuombouh Sandra & *Mindako Vanisa
Shortly, Cameroon could be producing most of the wheat that will be consumed at home and probably exported, as research done by the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development, IRAD, has already confirmed the possibility of growing wheat in the country. Amid the current wheat scarcity, the government has pumped in over FCFA 9 billion to boost the home production of wheat.
In the Southwest Region, the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation, MINPRESI, through IRAD, the Ministry’s agricultural research arm, showcased samples of wheat seeds it has produced and nursed.
“We’ve already started trials in the Southwest Region,” George Mafany Teke, Southwest Regional Delegate for MINPRESI said. “Formerly, we were told that wheat cannot grow in this part of the world but IRAD has developed a technology and the seeds that we planted here were brought to us by IRAD.”
He was speaking in Buea on Thursday, July 12, during a seminar to sensitise agricultural stakeholders on the strides MINPRESI, through IRAD, is making to address the wheat scarcity in the country.
IRAD showcased alternative ways through which Cameroonians can divert their dependence on wheat imports as Cameroon already suffers a 65 percent deficit in wheat, due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.
“The Ministry is trying to increase production in order to combat the high price of wheat flour in the market. So, currently, we have a variety of wheat plants and we started by doing a germination test. The germination test is very successful and we have done it as acclimatization,” said Ekwa Yawa Monono, a wheat researcher at IRAD.
He said they have planted a “small field with the different varieties” of wheat and so far and the wheat is doing well. But as of now, the exact terrain where wheat can grow in the Southwest Region is still being researched.
“What we are trying to do is identify the variety which is best for this agro-ecological zone, and after this, we have to take it to Batoke to compare between highland and lowland based on the altitude in order to know which variety is best,” Ekwa Yawa said.
At the seminar, IRAD experts showcased how wheat flour could be replaced by flour made from local crops like cassava, and potato. They also displayed bread, cakes and other products they have produced from potato or cassava flour.
Dr Siri Bella, a socio-economist at IRAD, said flour could also be derived from beans. But unlike wheat, cassava and potato flour that can be used for baking, beans flour could only be used to produce biscuits or supplement children’s food.
“Recently, we are working on beans-based products like beans flour and beans biscuit such that we can increase the consumption of beans, because we know that initially we only consume beans as rice and beans or ‘corn chaff’,” she said.
The Governor of the Southwest Region, Bernard Okalia Bilai, lauded MINPRESI’s effort to curtail Cameroon’s wheat dependency, stating that this will help advance the government’s 2035 emergence vision.
Apart from finding ways to curtail wheat imports, the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation says it is also into aquatic research – meant to increase fish production on the local market.
One of IRAD’s fish farmers, Tabe Maxwell Enow, said fish farming is a vital way to limit the exploitation of the natural waters and it can create employment for thousands of Cameroonian youths who are unemployed.
The government’s response to the wheat scarcity conundrum is expected to target local farmers, some of who are already involved in cultivating crops like potato and cassava, which can substitute wheat flour.
“If provided with the resources, we will be able to produce flour from our local products for the market. We need things to bake like an oven, resources to produce more of the cassava and potato,” said a farmer who attended the MINPRESI seminar in Buea.
*(ASMAC & UB Student Journalists on Internship)