As food consumption is on the increase, pasta and noodles producers have imported a total of 840,000 tons of wheat valued at N193.2billion ($420million) this year. The imports account for 15 per cent of the 5.6million tonnes of wheat expected to be imported in 2020 as plans by the Federal Government to reduce wheat imports by 50 per cent failed. According to the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), wheat consumption in the country has reached 5.26 million metric tonnes between 2019/20, up nearly four per cent or 200,000 tonnes higher than the 2018/19.
The organisation attributed the surge in imports to increase in food, seed and industrial (FSI) usage, noting that the bulk of Nigeria’s wheat imports destined for milling and production were sourced from Russia, the United States, Canada and Australia. Also, USDA explained the country has spent $1.2billion in 2016; $1.5billion in 2017 and 2018, $1.65billion, making the country one of the top buyers of Hard Red Winter (HRW) and Soft Red Winter (SRW) wheat the global market.
It was learnt that Flour Mills of Nigeria pioneered pasta production in 1999, since then it expanded pasta production capacity from 40,000 tons in 1999 to 350,000 tonnes, while Dangote also expanded its own milling capacity from15,000 tonnes/year in 2000 to a total installed capacity of 800 tonnes/daily.
Other major pasta producers are Honeywell Flour Mill and Olam/Crown Flour Mills. Following the massive importation of the grain, the Federal Government imposed a five per cent tariff on wheat imports, additional 15 per cent levy and 12 per cent tax rebate to bakers willing to blend cassava flour with wheat flour for bread making but wheat importation has continued to increase. Last month, record by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA)’s shipping position revealed that two terminals the Lagos Port complex, Apapa Bulk Terminal Limited and Greenview Development Nigeria Limited (GDNL) took delivery of 190, 323 tonnes of the grain from five vessels.
At the ABTL, Papua Coastal offloaded 14, 100 tonnes; Desert Ranger, 55,000 tonnes; Desert Challenger, 43,000 tonnes and Desert Victory, 48,223 tonnes, while Tamarack discharged 30,000 tonnes of wheat at GDNL. Also in September, 2020, the NPA shipping data indicated that West Bay with 22,000 tonnes and Star Dorado, 13,200 tonnes berthed at Greenview Development Nigeria Limited (GDNL)and SFM at the Lagos Port Complex respectively. Also, the Apapa Bulk Terminal Limited (ABTL) took delivery of 52, 500 tonnes from Desert Osprey: Desert Moon, 48,951.42tonnes; Desert Spring, 36, 470 tonnes.
In February alone, USDA said that the country ferried 132,800 tonnes, noting that about 168, 690 tonnes were shipped to Lagos Port complex and Calabar Port. Similarly, Rivers Port in Port Harcourt took delivery of 18, 920 tonnes from Galene M and Baltic Mantis, 15,000 tonnes. Meanwhile, the current deficit experienced in the country has hindered the Federal Government’s plans to cut wheat importation by 60 per cent by 2025 as the country failed to produce 1.5 million tonnes locally per annum. Government had said in 2012 that it would increase national production from 300,000metric tonnes to about two million metric tonnes per annum by 2019 but uptill 2020, production has not exceeded 60,000 tonnes per annum.
It would be recalled that the National President of the Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN), Alhaji Salim Mohammed, said that lack of quality seeds had been the major challenge of the crop in Nigeria. He noted that if the government could finance research institutes to come up with new varieties every two years, it would sustain production and keep the farmers in business.