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Cereals production and trade in the COMESA region has registered a steady rise in recent years. According to the latest COMESA Agriculture Statistics Bulletin, the total quantity of cereal exported and imported in the region was 5.5 million tonnes in 2014 compared to 3.7 million tonnes in 2013. Out of this amount, 3.3 million tonnes of cereals was imported from outside the region.

Sudan accounted for 1.2 million or 35% of all cereal imports into COMESA followed by Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Wheat constituted 84% of all the cereal imports. The total cereal imports in 2013 were valued at US$ 5.8million.

The COMESA region harvested a total of 115 million tonnes of cereals in 2013 up from about 70 million tonnes in 2012. Maize contributed 36% of the total cereal production followed by sorghum at 18% and wheat 17percent.

Egypt and Ethiopia contributed nearly 90% of all wheat produced indicating that the product is a major staple food in these countries. Maize production, which is a major staple in most COMESA countries, was evenly spread across the different member States.

The Bulletin states that Ethiopia produced over one quarter (29%) of COMESA’s cereals, followed by Egypt (23%) and Sudan at 14%. Sudan produced more than half of the 21 million tonnes of sorghum in the region.

Another cereal Teff, which is uniquely grown in Ethiopia, had a production of nearly 8 million tonnes and it ranks fifth ahead of barley, oats and millet.

Intra-COMESA exports of major cereals (wheat, maize, paddy rice, sorghum and millet in 2014 were valued at US$41 million down from US$128 million in 2013. Maize accounted for 70% of intra-COMESA cereal imports. Zambia contributed nearly all of the intra-COMESA maize exports.

Cereals play a vital role in COMESA’s agriculture, contributing significantly to achieving food and nutritional security.

According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), in terms of energy, the main staple in an average African diet comprises cereals, roots and tubers and animal products.