Imperative of accelerating pace of wheat production in Nigeria


Early this week, the Flour Milling Association of Nigeria (FMAN), a partnership of flour millers, actively working together to develop the country’s wheat value chain, announced plans to establish procurement centres across 15 northern states to take wheat grains from up to 150,000 farmers under the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Anchor Borrowers’ Program (ABP).

Speaking during the annual green field day event at Gawon-Bature in Dambatta Local Government Area of Kano State, National Programme Manager, Wheat Development Project, Dr. Aliyu Samaila, said the programme was being implemented through the APB initiated by the CBN.

Samaila said the country requires a strong vision backed by clear roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders, added that FMAN would organise state-wide field days in all their major areas of operations to bring together key stakeholders in order to address challenges and learn from each other.

“The programme adopted proactive farmer support services to sustainably encourage wheat production and yields per hectre, to enable it to compete with rice and other dry season crops in the 2021-22 dry season activities.

“The programme has resulted in cultivation of 504 demonstration farms each on 0.5 ha across the 15 states to provide training on Good Agronomic Practices (GAP) to 250,000 farmers under the CBN ABP,” he explained.

In his remark, Alhaji Salim Muhammad, National President, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria, commended FMAN and the CBN for the wheat farmers’ support programme.

The economic importance of wheat and its contribution to the diets of humans and livestock cannot be disputed. Currently available figures show an average annual global production of about 680 million tonnes (mt) over the 5‐year period from 2008 to 2012, with almost 700 mt being produced in 2011. This makes wheat the third most important crop in terms of global production, the comparative values for the production of the two other major cereals over the same period being 704 mt for rice and 874 mt for maize.

However, wheat is unrivaled in its range of cultivation, from 67°N in Scandinavia and Russia to 45°S in Argentina, including elevated regions in the tropics and subtropics. Furthermore, there is an increasing demand for wheat in new markets beyond its region of climatic adaptation.

Increasing global demand for wheat is based on the ability to make unique food products and the increasing consumption of these with industrialisation and westernization. In particular, the unique properties of the gluten protein fraction allows the processing of wheat to produce bread, other baked goods, noodles and pasta, and a range of functional ingredients. These products may be more convenient to produce or consume than traditional foods.

It is this , therefore, against this  backdrop  that  the on-going effort  by the  Federal Government , through the CBN , to accelerate  the production of wheat in the country  can be appreciated.  

Early in 2021, the CBN flagged-off the first ever rain-fed wheat programme in the country, seeking to slash the importation of the food commodity by 60 per cent as well as save $2 billion annually in foreign exchange. According to the CBN, the programme will benefit over 150,000 farmers and would be implemented in 15 states of the federation for a start.

 Attaining self-sufficiency in wheat production which now stands at 600,000 metric tons is very crucial to the economic development and diversification of the Nigerian economy in this period of lower oil prices and scarce foreign exchange.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Nigeria imports an average of 4.7 million metric tons of wheat annually whilst its demand is more than six million tons. For the country to fill the current gap between local production and self-sufficiency, aggressive drive should be sustained to overcome challenges militating  against wheat production in Nigeria.

 Experts identified these challenges  to include  limited access to improved and certified seed varieties that are high yielding and suitable to our millers in Nigeria; lack of national strategy on wheat production as obtainable for crops like rice, maize, tomato; inadequate irrigation infrastructure in the wheat producing states; and insurgency in the North East which has affected wheat production especially in the Lake Chad area.

Achieving self-sufficiency in wheat production, they said , will unlock a lot of opportunities along the wheat value chain and make Nigeria richer when wheat import is reduced drastically through conservation of scarce foreign exchange since we have the climate and the soil.

 Experts said a combination of short and long term measures will improve wheat production in Nigeria. First is the development of a national wheat production road map through the aggregation of all stakeholders in the wheat value chain involving the wheat farmers association, flour millers, CBN, NIRSL and commercial banks.

Secondly,  the government  needs to improve on research and development of quality wheat seeds which is now  being undertaken by the Lake Chad Research Institute. It also requires adequate funding for the institute to achieve results.

There is also the need for more investment in irrigation infrastructure in the wheat producing states to enable farmers to have enough ready-to-use acreages and water source. Even some level of commercialisation should be introduced for land clearing, levelling and other engineering works that are capital intensive for commercial farmers and cooperative associations.

Similarly, access to finance should be provided for wheat farmers at zero interest in the wheat producing belt since farmers abhor credit with interest for religious reasons, additionally, there should be increased use of mechanisation in the wheat value chain for optimum production.

 Last month, President Muhammadu Buhari said that Nigeria was on its way to self-sufficiency in food production.The President stated this at the unveiling of Rice Pyramids in the FCT, also  financed by the CBN under the ABP initiative.

He said that ABP had supported his government’s commitment to economic diversification as it had granted loans to about 4.8 million smallholder farmers for food production, adding that Nigeria now produces 7.5 million metric tons of rice annually from 4 million metric tons in 2015.

 Governor of the CBN, Mr Godwin Emefiele, who also spoke at the occasion, said the display of the Rice Pyramids is a celebration of farmers who had displayed doggedness amid daunting challenges including insecurity. He said a similar feat would soon be recorded in wheat production as it had moved to transform the value chain.

The reason this initiative is commendable  is the fact  that even if Nigeria does not attain the status of a wheat exporter but is self-sufficient , it means that the foreign exchange expended on the import of the commodity will be conserved for other uses.  So, the effort is a welcome  development.