Wheat Consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa: Trends, Drivers, and Policy Implications

December 1, 2012 - Author: Nicole M. Mason, T.S. Jayne, and Bekele Shiferaw

IDWP 127. Nicole M. Mason, T.S. Jayne, and Bekele Shiferaw. 2012. Wheat Consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa: Trends, Drivers, and Policy Implications. 

Wheat consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is increasing rapidly, faster than any other
major food grain. Between 2000 and 2009, per capita wheat consumption in SSA increased at
a rate of 0.35 kilogram (kg)/year, outpacing maize and rice. Total wheat consumption
increased by nearly 650,000 Metric tons (MT)/year. Staple grain consumption in SubSaharan
Africa is rising at the same time that the region is becoming more dependent on
imported staples. Wheat consumed in SSA is increasingly coming from imports from nonSSA
countries as wheat production in SSA has failed to keep up with growing demand.
Africa’s growing reliance on imported staples including wheat received a great deal of
attention in the 1980s and 1990s, yet there has been relatively little research on this issue in
recent years. This paper takes stock of trends in wheat consumption and net imports in SSA
since 1980, and identifies the drivers of growing demand for wheat at country-level in SSA.
It also discusses the potential dilemmas posed by SSA’s increasing reliance on imported
staples, and examines the pros and cons of various options for African countries to meet their
staple grain needs.

Results suggest that the key drivers of rising wheat consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa are
rising incomes, growing populations, women’s participation in the labor force increasing at a
faster rate than men’s, and wheat food aid. Given population projections alone, wheat
consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase at an even faster rate in the
coming decades: 670,000 MT to 1.12 million MT per year between 2010 and 2020, and
770,000 MT to 1.28 million MT per year between 2020 and 2030. Rising incomes and
women’s rising participation in the labor force are likely to boost wheat consumption even
further. The econometric results do not point to urbanization as a statistically significant
determinant of country-level wheat consumption. However, measurement error in the
urbanization variable may be biasing this estimate downward. In most of SSA, wheat
consumption and expenditure shares are systematically higher in urban than in rural areas, so
urbanization, which is occurring rapidly in the region, would seemingly be an important
driver of wheat demand. In countries such as Kenya and Nigeria, another important driver of
increasing demand is the declining price of wheat relative to other staples (e.g., maize and
rice). Following global trends, the price of wheat relative to maize and other staples has
declined recently in several wheat consuming countries in SSA, making wheat relatively
more affordable to local consumers.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s growing dependence upon imported staple food grains poses at least
two major dilemmas. First, SSA is becoming increasingly reliant on imported staples at a
time when world prices for these commodities are rising and when prices and supplies are
likely to become more variable as a result of climate change. Second, wheat consumption in
SSA is generally higher in urban areas than in rural areas, and at present most of the urban
demand for wheat in SSA is being met by imports or domestic production on large-scale
commercial farms. Outside of Ethiopia, smallholders produce very little of the wheat
demanded in SSA. Rising wheat demand therefore entails few urban-rural synergies and
minimal prospects to contribute to broad-based economic development through the structural
transformation process.

African policymakers have a number of potential policy options at their disposal to meet their
countries’ staple grain needs. Some are more likely than others to stimulate broad-based
economic development. The ‘best’ option or combination of options will be country-specific.
However, investments in rural infrastructure, irrigation, agricultural research, development,
and extension, and market information systems are likely to be core elements of successful
strategies to promote increased staple grain production and productivity as well as economic
development and poverty reduction.

Tags: cross-country, idwp

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Thomas Jayne

Thomas Jayne

Nicole Mason-Wardell

Nicole Mason-Wardell

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