Tropical wheat development may not aid Nigerians in poverty

Investing $1.5 billion in tropical wheat funding may not benefit people living in poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, warns MSU's Dr. Saweda Liverpool-Tasie.

Surging global wheat prices caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine have spurred the African Development Bank and the Nigerian government to take decisive action: they’re spending $1.5 billion USD on a project to replace wheat imports with regionally grown ‘tropical wheat.’

But that investment may not benefit people living in poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, warns Michigan State University researcher Saweda Liverpool-Tasie, lead author of a recently published paper in the journal Nature Food.

“There’s a fear that these price surges will especially hurt poor people” said Liverpool-Tasie, an MSU Foundation Professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Research Economics (AFRE) at MSU. “But from the perspective of food security of the poor, there is no evidence from consumption patterns in Nigeria to support pursuing a ‘grow our own wheat’ program.”

By examining the wheat consumption rates across economically distinct regions of Nigeria, the co-authors found that wheat remains a very small share of total food consumption relative to other cereals (like rice, maize and millet) and starchy staples (like roots and tubers). The study found that wheat is a luxury item in Nigeria – a food of the rich – and rising global wheat prices will not have a meaningful impact on the poor.

Liverpool-Tasie and her co-authors believe that the conclusions of their study can extend beyond Nigeria to other Sub-Saharan African countries. They recommend that regional governments invest in breeding crops that are central to poor communities and supported by farming conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Producers could also increase consumer access to alternative ‘convenience cereals’ by processing coarse grains into readily consumable forms.

“Wheat self-sufficiency programs will have only minimal impacts on poor Nigerians,” said Liverpool-Tasie. “We contend that there are better ways to use limited government and donor resources.”

Liverpool-Tasie’s scholarship in AFRE emphasizes collaboration with local partners, including researchers, policymakers and civil society, to develop effective innovations that reduce poverty and create more resilient communities, particularly among smallholders in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“This important research shows that for Africa’s most populous country and many other African nations, other starches are more important than wheat, especially for the poor. Policies to alleviate the Ukraine-Russia war’s restrictions on global wheat supplies should find ways to boost availability of the alternative grains and tubers that matter more in nations like Nigeria,” said Scott Swinton, AFRE department chair and University Distinguished Professor.

“This article exemplifies the timely economic analysis of important food policy questions that AFRE scholars and our research partners strive to do.”

Did you find this article useful?