Why Nigeria’s Wheat Production Programme Is Under Threat

Stored wheat grains in Kebbi State

Stored wheat grains in Kebbi State

• What Agric Minister Should Know
• FMARD, CBN Urged To Better Network

RISING from the National Wheat planning conference at the Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, in July 2015, the signals were clear that stakeholders need no further conviction of the nation’s capacity to grow wheat. It had been done in the past.

In addition, the desire to cut down on the huge drain on Nigeria’s forex, put at a whopping $4bn worth of wheat import yearly, as reiterated by Dr. Oluwasina Olatunji, Executive Director, Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI), has been top of the agenda. The plan is to cultivate, in stepwise manner, a land area of 150,000 hectares with 15,000 metric tons of seed in the major wheat-growing states of the north.

This projection is aimed at cutting imports by 50 per cent in 2017 and by extrapolation, save $2bn yearly, put more income in the hands of local farmers,
as well as, boost the country’s food security.

On the availability of land to cultivate wheat, Engr. Garba Abba, Managing Director, Chad Basin Development Authority (CBDA), told The Guardian that the Southern Chad Irrigation scheme, in the original plan, has target of providing water for 77,000 hectares dedicated to wheat (and rice). He added that the catchment areas of Yobe and parts of Adamawa along with the Fadama areas would give the nation’s millers almost half of their requirement on yearly basis.

The nation has several northern states that are in the wheat-growing belt, and they include Borno, Kano, Jigawa, Kebbi, Gombe, Sokoto and Zamfara. Others are Bauchi, Katsina, Plateau and Yobe in the irrigated wheat belt. Agriculture database platform managers, Cellulant, showed that while 11,500 registered wheat farmers in Kano were input beneficiaries, only 250 were registered in Biu, Borno State, ostensibly due to persistent attacks by insurgents. Jigawa, Kebbi, Gombe and Sokoto states registered 10,100, 9,000, 1,691 and 932 farmers respectively, who received seed and fertilizer inputs on that platform according to 2014 Wheat Value Chain Annual Report. As at December last year, 148,000 farmers were registered, out of which about 60,000 benefitted directly or indirectly from the wheat programme.

There is potential to grow enough wheat for local consumption and export and farmers are willing to get back to land on the condition that inputs are available and distributed equitably as seen with the Growth Enhancement Support scheme of the past administration. All through the Zaria workshop and the Kano flag-off of the wheat and rice dry season farming last week, farmers and stakeholders were unanimous in applauding the Wheat value chain agenda of the former Agriculture Minister, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, which did a lot of good to their productivity when compared with the position years ago.

With regard to quality of Nigerian wheat, its milling and baking attributes have well gone through the tests at top class organisations. Collaborating with bodies like the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (Tunis) – ICARDA, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARD-SC), among others, on the seed and crop research side of the business, LCRI cannot but have the best of seed for local farmers. It is on the basis of these that the Institute released the Norman and Reyna-28 varieties capable of 5-6 tons per hectare wheat yield and comparable to anywhere globally.

In terms of the baking quality, the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, (FIIRO), Oshodi, Lagos has carried out tests that put it at par with pastries and confectioneries made from wheat grown in Europe and America. From crumb to crust, according to the test results, bread from Nigerian wheat scaled consumer acceptability parameters.
Challenges within

IN this laudable project of wanting to attain a 50 per cent reduction in the importation of wheat by 2017, and progressively till Nigeria attains self-sufficiency, the nation has been its own worst enemy. In a strategic crop like wheat (and even rice), government should be firmly in the driver’s seat, calling the shots.

Past administrations have always blamed lack of funds to keep the project at levels that would not be in the overall interest of the nation. Though considerable gains were made in a number of areas in the recent past, Nigeria is yet to get to the point of attaining the 10 per cent Agriculture budget benchmark, set by the African Union (AU) for member states. Nigeria barely made 2.5 per cent in 2012 and not much different in the following years.

According to the 2014 Wheat Value Chain Annual Report, late release of even the fund made available, in November and December 2014 caused delay in the procurement and distribution of seeds till middle and late December. At the end of December, distribution was halted to forestall late planting.

At the point of stocktaking, Rahama Seed Company in Kano had 116 metric tons of certified seed left in its stores of the 1,997 metric tons procured; only 12.3 metric tons of 39 metric tons were distributed of the LCRI foundation seed, while the institute had 400kg of the 4,000kg breeder seed left in its stores. This was the picture as of last planting season.

This planting season, it is reliably gathered that the Federal Government had made little or no approvals for funds to pursue the programme; it was yet to get any minister to run the nation’s critical food production sector five months after being handed over the mantle of power. Farmers depended on leftover seed, some which may have lost their germination potency. To put the project in motion would require close to N2.5bn for seed procurement, but that was not be. Effectively, Nigeria is not looking at cutting down wheat importation significantly any time soon.
CBN And The Kebbi Fair

TO achieve the goal set for halving wheat import by 2017, 150,000 hectares of land needed to be cultivated and 150 metric tons of seed planted, latest by November 15.

Seed experts in the wheat value chain say there is a window between 1st and 15th November during which seed must be planted to enable vernalisation, ‘the optimum cooling of the seed during germination in order to quicken flowering of the plant. Outside this, the plants would suffer some stress, which may force them to flower unduly and yield less at harvest. Infact, The Guardian learnt that lack of this could reduce yield by 40 per cent, almost half of expected harvest would be in the red.

The CBN’s Kebbi Anchor Borrowers’ programme, lofty as it might have been, was technically, two days outside the optimum window for planting and appeared to be face-saving agriculture event arranged for the President Buhari administration that was yet to emerge with the agriculture programme of the new government.

The Agric minister, Chief Audu Ogbe was, at the time, yet to understand what the CBN was doing in Kebbi (being barely two weeks old in office). Even at the programme, it was more of the CBN’s Godwin Emefiele and the President representing the funding and political face of the event respectively, while the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), that should source the seed and supply the technical manpower was lost in the official crowd.

Reliable sources informed that from Abuja to Kebbi, the agriculture ministry got wind of the event just days away from the official unveiling at Birnin Kebbi, a case of not putting things properly.
As one of the technocrats informed, the Bank does not procure seed, has no extension service the scale of the ministry and no farmer-database, wondering why the federal institutions were not on the same page.

At inter-agency or department level, particularly with respect to government projects, partnership should be the watchword, our source said. Perhaps, a few noticed that there was an ‘outdo each other game’ between the Industry, Trade and Investment and Agriculture Ministries in the last administration, only that there was high level maturity exhibited at the ministerial level at the time.
External Challenges

NIGERIA is into a duel with American interests aggressively working against Nigeria’s wheat production advances on the one hand, while the Asians battle against her for daring to grow enough rice to feed herself and drastically reduce imports.

Undoubtedly, Nigeria is one of the biggest importers of wheat, as well as, rice in the world, no thanks to a huge population that has resigned its breakfast, lunch and dinner to bread, pasta and pastries on the wheat side of the dinning, and jollof rice and Tuwo shinkafa on the other.

In a bold initiative to get Nigeria out of the apron string of wheat exporting nations of the west, former President Ibrahim Babangida shut the import doors and went a-farming. According to credible sources, IBB was ‘bullied’ out of the programme by the US in the 80s, when a daunting six times the initial harvest of 80 metric tonnes (MT) to about 450,000MT of wheat was achieved in a few farming seasons. It is believed that the nation’s wheat progress is continually on the radar of the US Wheat lobby group with ‘keen’ interest.

The rice exporting Asian tigers’ several underground moves to forestall Nigeria’s grain development, especially rice, is open secret, and a subject that should fit into the President’s ‘Must Do’ list.
Insurgency And The Northeast

ACCORDING to Engr. Garba, the South Chad Irrigation scheme and the Chad Basin Development Authority hold key positions in the nation’s quest for self-sufficiency in wheat production.

However, the Boko Haram group is holding sway in the entire Lake Chad basin, causing, as the Managing Director put it, the last harvest of 2012 from about 5,000 hectares not to be garnered. It was abandoned as farmers fled for safety and till date, not much progress has been made.

Perhaps, it could be rational to wonder why all the public show of assisting Nigeria tame the insurgents by the west never went past its place in the media. If peace truly returns to the northeast, Nigeria could write her name in the group of leading grain producers in the world.

On the other hand, it has been an endless talk session about the Lake Chad Basin Commission, which comprise of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroun and Niger in the main, with Central African Republic, and the contribution of one million dollars annually by member states. Member states have not been up-to-date in meeting their financial obligations and several plans of kicking the lake back to life have been on the shelf for so long. The Lake is fast shrinking in water volume and facing the impact of climate change.
The Place Of Seed Companies

IN the realisation of the wheat production mandate, the Nigeria seed business cannot be waved aside; it has grown from its low activity status of 12 indigenous seed companies in 2011 to active membership of 150 in 2015, according to Richard Olafare, the seed association’s President.
Observers are closely monitoring how far the wheat production push will go under the President Buhari administration, especially in light of contending issues.

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1 Comment
  • emmanuel kalu

    The first step to solving our food problem and the huge importation, is make imported food item that we can produce and are producing very expensive, which would eventually lead to massive reduction in its importation. next there need to be a major focus on the major food crops that get imported to this country. The ministry of agriculture, needs to create an agency that would be solely in charge of growing our food production and reducing importation.