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Attaining self-sufficiency in wheat production

Recently, stakeholders in wheat value chain in the country came together under a forum to discuss and proffer solutions to challenges in Nigeria’s wheat production. TAIWO HASSAN reports

Wheat, a popular ingredient in the production of staples for Nigerian households, is critical in feeding the over 200 million people in Nigeria. The huge demand for wheat has created opportunities for flour millers, wheat farmers and other stakeholders in the agricultural value chain to create strategic partnerships, which will enhance production in the wheat segment and aid the pursuit and attainment of self-sufficiency and ultimately ensure food security in Nigeria.

Capital flight

In fact, the quest to attain self-sufficiency has become a tough hurdle, costing Nigeria’s economy about N2.2 trillion in the last four years in importation into the country. The enormous spending is no longer sustainable, especially post-COVID-19, coupled with CBN’s concluded plans to reduce importation of wheat by 60 per cent over the next two years.

Clarion call

Meanwhile, agric stakeholders have called for the summoning of a national wheat forum to identify the challenges and proffer solutions, which will result in an increase in wheat production locally. In a bid to achieve this, Olam, a leading food and agribusiness conglomerate, held its maiden webinar series: “Olam Green Land Webinar Series,” recently. The theme of the webinar was ‘Deepening the wheat farming development programme in Nigeria through innovation, increasing investments and collaborations.’ Attended by stakeholders from private and public sectors, including agricultural experts from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Flour Milling Association of Nigeria (FMAN), Wheat Farmers Association, agronomists, agriculture research institutes, policymakers, regulators and members of the National Assembly, it was generally agreed that partnerships among stakeholders in wheat production value chain had become imperative towards boosting the quest by Nigeria to be selfsufficient in food. Speakers at the event Included Mr. Ashish Pande, Managing Director, Crown Flour Mill Limited, a subsidiary of Olam Nigeria; Dr. Filippo Maria Bassi, Senior Scientist, Durum Wheat Breeder, International Center for the Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Morocco; Alhaji Sabo Nanono, Hon. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD). Represented by Dr. Richard-Mark Mbaram Esq.Technical Adviser on Knowledge Management & Communications; Alhaji Munir Babba Dan Agundi, Chairman, House Committee on Agricultural Colleges and Institutions, House of Representatives of Nigeria; Dr. Kachalla Kyari Mala, Principal Research Officer, Lake Chad Research Institute, Maiduguri, Borno State; Sarah Huber, Head, Wheat Development Programme, Flour Milling Association of Nigeria (FMAN). Other are Alhaji Salim Saleh Muhammad, National President, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN); Mr. Stephen Ambore – Wheat Champion, Central Bank of Nigeria; Mrs. Babaginda – Director, Federal Department of Agriculture, represented by Mr. Telta Naphtali – Assistant Director, Desk Officer Wheat Value Chain, FMARD and Prof Ikechukwu Kelikume – Lagos Business School.

Stakeholders’ comments

In his welcome address at the forum, Pande noted that Nigeria could only improve her wheat production capacity through an improved wheat value chain. He stated that Crown Flour Mill was determined to boost wheat development in the country through its involvement in qualitative research on seed varieties to enhance better yields in Nigeria. “Our ambition is to do research on seed varieties so that all of us can have better seed in the future and with that, we can have bountiful harvest. The webinar was organised to create a synergy among stakeholders in the wheat value chain to harness strategic ideas on how to improve on the wheat production capacity in the country,” he said. In his keynote address, Bassi said that varieties of wheat could have greater yields depending on the farming techniques and soil texture, stressing that each country should test its seeds in different regions.

He encouraged stakeholders from various quarters to encourage wheat production and processing, which will go a long way to boosting food security and economic growth. Filippo also called for the replication of the Olam’s introduced Durum wheat variety, one of the most cultivated varieties of the crop nationwide, and more engagement of the services of experienced seed scientists to accelerate wheat production in the country. According to data by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigeria produced 420,000 tonnes of wheat in 2020 alone. However, this quantity is still far from reducing the huge gap between production and demand levels of about five million metric tonnes annually. In her own submission at the event, Huber explained that the association’s top priority was to buy local wheat from farmers. She pointed out that the biggest challenge confronting Nigeria’s flour millers at the moment was increasing local yields. She noted that it was critical to increase yields in the country by 70 per cent. In addition, the FMAN boss added that there was also the need to increase yield by at least three tonnes per hectare, meaning that the country needs to get yield up to three tonnes per hectare to make it very attractive for farmers to cultivate wheat in abundance. According to her, when there are more farmers growing wheat in Nigeria, it will bring high yields. She, however, advocated subsidy payment to wheat farmers by the Federal Government to enable them increase their production for Nigerian food security. Also speaking in a similar vein, Agundi, while assessing the contribution of wheat production growth in Nigeria, explained that the issue of price at the international market, which is between $280/ $300 per tonne for importing the commodity, must be looked into critically, comparing it to local price of the same commodity at $420 per tonne. He said: “In terms of importation of wheat into the country at between $280/ $300 per tonne, while our production price cost locally for the same commodity has gone up to $420 per tonne in our local market is not acceptable. This is a very serious challenge for our millers, farmers and government, including policy makers, and must be looked into critically for the sake of our wheat industry. “Once this disparity is there, I don’t think we will be able to succeed and that has been the problem in the country concerning wheat importation. The agric minister told us at a meeting where we are invited by Olam, that we spent $6 billion per annum on wheat importation into Nigeria. This is huge foreign exchange (forex) on our national reserve. And again, the guest speaker said increasing yield is one of the ways to bridge the gap in the issue of price.” On his part, Nanono, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, pointed out that this current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s priority was to bring down Nigeria’s wheat import bill by 60 per cent in the next two years to encourage local sufficiency in wheat industry. Nanono, who was represented by Dr. Richard-Mark Mbaram, Technical Adviser on Knowledge Management & Communications, stressed that the ministry was dedicated to the improvements of lives and living standards of Nigerian farmers and also critical stakeholders in agric value chains, especially in the area of research and development (R&D) to boost agriculture. The agric minister said: “So when it comes to wheat, right from 1985 when the Federal Government under the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) incentivised some flour millers players to import wheat into the country, we have been importing a lot of our wheat into the country. But the essence of this administration’s efforts presently is to at least reduce wheat import bill by 60 per cent in the next two years. That is our aim and objective. And for us, all players who are supporting that efforts, particularly big players like Olam, FMN, and other members of the FMAN Association are welcome and will get the support of FMARD.” Also speaking, Muhammad, National President, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN), charged the Federal Government to give subsidy payments in form of intervention funds to WFAN members to promote wheat cultivation and production in Nigeria.

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