Rwanda has started to look for alternative sources of wheat imports following hefty trade sanctions on its major supplier, Russia. Before the sanctions, Rwanda heavily relied on Russia for wheat and fertiliser imports with at least 64 per cent of the wheat that the country uses coming from Russia, which is now grappling with export and import sanctions as a punishment for its military raid on neighbouring Ukraine. Without specifying details, Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente recently told journalists that was looking for alternative sources of supply of wheat after the Ukraine crisis disrupted global prices and supply of the commodity. The country is also weighing other options, particularly encouraging more bakeries to blend wheat with tubers in the making of bread. In 2021, Russia was the top wheat exporter as it shipped 32.9 million tonnes of wheat, equivalent to 18 per cent of global shipments, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Ukraine, which is now the subject of a crisis fuelled by Russia’s military offensive, accounted for 10 per cent of the global wheat market. The crisis triggered disruptions in global supplies of wheat and drove the prices of related products such as flour and bread high. Rwanda has essentially been importing two products from Russia – wheat and fertilisers. In 2020, Rwanda spent over $44 million (Rwf44 billion) on wheat imports, a rise from $40.8 million (about Rwf40 billion) that it spent a year before, according to data from the Ministry of Trade and Industry. On the basis of volumes, Rwanda imported more than 177,740 tonnes of wheat in 2020, up from 159,350 tonnes in 2019 “What we are doing is to diversify the sources of supply, such as wheat from other countries,” Ngirente says, “But, as we look for alternative sources, we are considering ways we can mix wheat product flour with [flour from] other products sourced locally such as tubers in order to make bread, which normally, fully depends on wheat,” he said. The government is working with the private on these alternatives Sweet potatoes, cassava see an as alternatives Sweet potatoes and cassava have been identified by some bakeries as alternative raw materials for making bread. Some players in the food industry have previously argued that sweet potatoes have proven to be effective ways of diversifying bakery products, prevent post-harvest losses and provide local farmers with a ready market for their produce. Local firms such as Kigali-based CARL Group, an agribusiness company created by four young graduates in 2014 and Enterprise Urwibutso, an agro-processing firm based in Rulindo District, had started tapping into the sweet potato potential to make biscuits and bread among other products, which is supplementing wheat flour in bakery. Regis Umugiraneza, the co-founder of CARL Group, told The New Times that with prices of wheat flour rising and supplies from global markets becoming untenable, locally produced tubers will be the best bet. The price of a 25-kilogramme bag of wheat flour, which used to cost Rwf16,000 before the Covid-19 outbreak, had risen to Rwf20,000 before the Russia-Ukraine war, Umugiraneza said. It has since soared to Rwf25,000. The firm processes sweet potatoes of the orange variety known to be nutritious. Orange sweet potato variety is rich in energy, vitamins, calcium and iron among other nutrients which are needed for improving nutrition. He said the firm was already blending sweet potato ingredients and wheat flour in its breads, indicating they are made of sweet potato puree that accounts for between 48 and 55 per cent depending on the type, while the remaining percentage consists of wheat flour and other ingredients. The company, he said, receives between 500 and 700 kilogrammes of sweet potatoes – with a kilogramme costing Rwf300 and produces between 250 and 500 breads per day depending on the demand among consumers in the City of Kigali. “Bread is consumed countrywide. If sweet potatoes or cassavas are included in all the bread made in the country, that can reduce wheat imports,” he said. However, he said that there was a need to address the challenges facing the development of this innovation, especially access to finance to get advanced equipment and technical skills for bread production. According to data from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda, Rwanda’s sweet potato production was estimated at over 1.3 million tonnes in 2021. Meanwhile, regarding fertilisers, Ngirente said that 14 per cent of the fertilisers used in Rwanda come from Russia.