RWANDA – Rwanda seeks to replace wheat in baking with sweet potatoes in a bid to tame import costs following hefty trade sanctions on its major wheat supplier, Russia.

Prior to the sanctions, Rwanda heavily depended on Russia for wheat imports, with at least 64 percent of the country’s wheat coming from Russia.

However, Russia is now facing export and import sanctions as a consequence of its military incursion into Ukraine, which has disrupted this supply.

Jean Ndirigwe, a sweet potato breeder at Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Board (RAB), revealed that the country has developed six new sweet potato varieties with the potential to increase production from the current 8 tonnes to 30 tonnes per hectare.

“We have sweet potato varieties that can increase production. Sweet potatoes can replace wheat in baking factories and cut the wheat imports,” he said.

Telesphore Ndabamenye, the Director General of Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB), said that high-yielding sweet potato varieties to replace wheat in baking are also rich in Vitamin A.

According to her, processing sweet potatoes into flour has proven to be one of the means to diversify baking products, prevent post-harvest losses, and provide farmers with a ready market for their produce.

Sweet potatoes, especially the orange variety, are rich in energy, vitamins, calcium, and iron among other nutrients which are needed for improving nutrition, she added.

Currently, Ndirigwe said, 99 percent of farmers are still using traditional seeds. However, RAB has committed to scaling up high-yielding varieties among farmers by increasing seed multipliers.

Jan Low, a principal scientist with the International Potato Center (CIP), said that if Rwanda invests in increasing sweet potato yields, it could replace wheat at between 30 percent and 60 percent in baking factories.

“Such investment can reduce government spending on wheat imports,” she said.

The data indicate that in 2019, Russia was Rwanda’s top wheat import partner where more than 73,324 tonnes worth US$17.5 million (approx. Rwf21 billion) were imported.

In 2020, the United Kingdom came first with 67,145 tonnes of wheat for US$16.1 million (approx. Rwf19 billion), followed by Russia with over 60,855 tonnes for US$15.2 million (approx. Rwf18 billion).