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Top Alternatives to Wheat Amid Global Shortage

The global food system’s heavy reliance on wheat is, perhaps, one of the most visible developments in recent months. Being the third most common crop after corn and soybeans, the highly versatile wheat has long held a critical position in global food security. More than 80% of wheat grown worldwide is processed into flour.

Wheat cultivation is controlled by a small number of nations despite being a staple commodity around the world. Only seven countries account for a whopping 86% of the world’s wheat exports, while some of the undeveloped countries depend on them for a large volume of their wheat imports.

Nigeria is the sixth largest importer of wheat in the world, spending up to $1.48 billion in 2019. Bread, noodles, semolina, and pasta are some of the popular wheat by-products in many Nigerian homes.

Although climate change has intensified the competition for scarce resources, the food system is under tremendous strain from several non-climate stressors. The Russia-Ukraine war and increasingly severe weather occurrences are endangering wheat output worldwide. Both countries are major players in wheat production. They account for about 30% of the world’s wheat exports, earning the nickname “breadbaskets” for most of the world. They also produce ⅓ of the world’s exports of potassium and ammonia used for making fertilisers. 

There have been various attempts at reducing the impact of a looming food crisis. On its part, the African Development Bank has set aside a staggering $1 billion to increase wheat production across Africa.

Senegal imports 6% of its wheat from Ukraine and 50% from Russia, but there has been a gradual adoption of locally sourced grains as alternatives to wheat. Egypt was the highest importer of wheat in 2019, with an estimated cost of $4.67 billion. However, wheat is now being planted in the Egyptian desert to strengthen domestic production, despite water shortages and the need for more fertilisers. 

The decline in the supply of wheat caused by conflict and climate change has spurred efforts to locally produce a wider variety of resilient and sustainable grains. These are heritage crop species that are more climatically tolerant and can thrive under various situations.

“Nigeria is the sixth largest importer of wheat in the world, spending up to $1.48 billion in 2019.”

The following four substitute grains could lessen our reliance on wheat

#1 Millet

With its short maturation period and high climatic resilience, millet is a staple food for hundreds of millions of people in Asia and Africa. The grain, which comes in a variety, can be cultivated worldwide, even in areas with very poor soils, and is tolerant of heat and drought. It also uses a lot less water than other grains like wheat, rice, or corn.

The UN proclaimed 2023 as the International Year of Millets, highlighting the significance of the grain, which is not widely consumed in the West. It can be processed into flour which is a viable alternative to wheat flour.

Martial arts figure prominently in many Asian cultures, and the first known traces.

#2 Einkorn

This is a heritage grain that can be used in place of wheat. Einkorn, the “original wheat,” has been around since the Neolithic era. It is more disease resistant than modern wheat and can grow on a variety of terrains. Currently, it is grown in relatively small amounts in Austria, Germany, and some parts of Italy, Hungary, and France.

Compared to typical wheat, it offers 30% more protein, 15% less starch, and less gluten. The grain is also reported to add a distinct nutty flavour to baked goods.

#3 Wild Emmer

Amid the current grain crisis, wild emmer wheat is another heritage crop that might make a comeback. It has a better yield than Einkorn and has the advantages of strong disease resistance and climate resilience.

It was an essential ingredient for bread making in ancient Rome. Nowadays, it’s harvested in the hilly regions of Europe, and the flour can be further processed for pasta.

Einkron
Wild Emmer

#4 Sorghum

Sorghum is a cereal grain, and the variety used for making flour is usually Sorghum bicolour, which is native to Africa. Brownies, cookies, muffins, waffles, and a variety of other baked items can be made with sorghum flour because of its mild, slightly sweet flavour and smooth texture

The density and texture of sorghum flour are like those of all-purpose wheat flour.

As more African countries continue to replace with locally available crops, Nigeria needs to ramp up her production to meet increasing demand. Better farming practices and improved seeds can increase the nation’s yield.

 

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