Achieving accelerated wheat production in Nigeria
Given both its burgeoning population and current global health and economic crisis, the need to improve food security in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Wheat has arguably become one of the most important agricultural commodities. The nationwide demand for low cost, convenient staple and baked foods are increasing demand for wheat products (flour and flour-based foods). Most wheat is imported today, and, as such, the country is in dire need to accelerate local production.
Nigeria’s total local wheat production last year was about 200,000 metric tonnes, according to sources from the Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN), which was lower than expected due to harsh weather conditions and poor seed varieties available. Wheat imports by flour millers averaged 4.7 million tons per year over the last few years according to the FAO, making Nigeria’s local wheat production grossly insufficient to meet demand.
With an appreciation for the urgency to close the Wheat production gap, it has become imperative for all stakeholders in this value chain to work together in scaling up local production and minimizing the level of imports.
FMAN’s plans, efforts to boost local wheat production
The Flour Milling Association of Nigeria (FMAN), which is composed of Flour Mills of Nigeria, Olam Nigeria, Dangote Flour Mills, Honeywell Flour, Life Flour Mills, Pure Flour Mills and BUA Flour Mills has continuously supported local wheat production in Nigeria over the past 4 years with interventions totalling about NGN 250 million. These interventions include; NGN 20 million grant to the Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI) to aid research on improved technology, varietal testing and modern agronomy practices in the year 2016. FMAN also donated 50 units of multi-crop threshers to the Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN) in 2018 to help reduce post-harvest loss, and most importantly, guaranteed offtake to purchase everything produced that meet set criteria. Previously, FMAN also donated 2,500 water pumps and 225,000 kg of seeds to farmers
This year, FMAN began an outgrower program, working with its long-time partner WFAN, along with Tabanni Wheat Farmers Cooperative and Thrive Agric, to support 400 wheat farmers in Kano, Jigawa and Sokoto states. FMAN has provided a loan of high-yielding Norman seeds, fertilizers and chemicals to each farmer, along with agronomic support, to be repaid with grain at the end of the season. Additionally, FMAN contracted 25 hectares of Norman seed production and conducted research trials with Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI) to test durum wheat varieties for use in pasta production. The goal is to maximize the yields of wheat farmers – to improve their income, improve volumes in the country and eventually bring prices closer to international levels.
Recent movement restrictions enacted to control the pandemic are creating significant challenges for wheat farmers to access harvesting and threshing equipment as well as labour. Access to market has also been significantly reduced as several key grain markets have shut and few trucks are operating to carry grain from one point to another. In response to the challenges farmers are facing, FMAN has engaged several aggregators to reach farmers despite the market closures and procure as much grain as possible. Additional to its outgrower program, FMAN has established several aggregation points at the Local Government level to save their outgrowers the cost and hassle of transporting their grains over long distances at this time.
Looking beyond the farmers in this program, FMAN signed an MOU with Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN) in April to buy wheat from farmers across the country this season at a 30% higher price than last season, for whatever quantity of wheat that can be delivered.
Some of the challenges faced in Nigeria’s local wheat production
Today, the challenges facing wheat production in the country include limited access to improved seed varieties, fertilizers & chemicals, high cost of production, inadequate irrigation infrastructure, insufficient funding systems, lack of a cohesive national strategy on wheat development, and the unclear role of various stakeholders.
As local supply fulfils a maximum of 5% of demand, a significant increase in production is required to reduce imports. While high-yielding seeds have been released in Nigeria especially the Norman variety, supply is extremely limited, and most farmers do not use these seeds. The extension (training for farmers) and credit for wheat is also very limited. As such, Nigerian wheat yields are no more than 2 tons per hectare, according to various sources. This is significantly lower than irrigated wheat production in other countries, including Mexico at 5.1 tons per hectare, India at 3.4 tons and Sudan at 2.5 tons. As a result of low yields, many farmers struggle to produce wheat profitably. Low yields also lead to much higher prices in the local market as compared to imports, which makes it difficult for millers to buy local wheat while also keeping flour prices sustainable for Nigerian consumers.
In addition to low yields per hectare, wheat production is also limited by irrigation infrastructure. Wheat requires cooler temperatures to properly mature. Hence, almost all wheat in Nigeria must be grown during harmattan in northern states above 10 degrees N latitude to benefit from cooler temperatures. During this time, there is little or no rain, so irrigation is required. Unstable weather conditions and climate change create additional challenges, which sometimes affect the planning and forecasting of wheat production. Many irrigation facilities have fallen into disrepair and limit the prospects for expansion of wheat production (as well as dry season rice and vegetables).
These challenges are further aggravated by insurgence in the North-East geo-political zone, where a significant percent of Nigeria’s wheat has traditionally been produced.
Strategies to improve wheat production in Nigeria
FMAN sees itself as a partner of progress in achieving the government’s objective of fixing the wheat value chain, and has taken an active role in the solution, beyond providing offtake. This is apparent in the drive to increase farmer profitability through giving technical support to the farmers and increasing the supply of high-yielding heat-tolerant wheat seeds. As the baking quality of Nigerian wheat improves, yields rise and prices come closer to import levels, FMAN looks forward to increasing its offtake of Nigerian wheat, while ensuring sustainable flour prices for Nigerian consumers.
Given the supply gap and importance of wheat production in Nigeria, it is crucial that the various stakeholders work harmoniously towards achieving the goal of increased sustainable production. FMAN, having joined hands with WFAN in a shared vision of sustainably improving the profitability of wheat farmers, desires to work collaboratively with all stakeholders in the value chain, leveraging the strengths of each.
There are a number of entities who need to play critical roles in developing Nigeria’s wheat value chain. As only the federal government can truly convene and align all stakeholders, a cohesive national strategy for wheat production, clarifying roles of all stakeholders, is needed from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Such a strategy should be based on nationwide and systematic data collection on where and how wheat is being produced across the country.
From the research system, especially Lake Chad Research Institute, more rapid testing and release of high-yielding wheat seed varieties is needed, and a much greater supply of foundation seed for seed production to ensure farmers have access to these new varieties. Further research on costs and benefits of prescribed agronomic practices for wheat is also needed, and how they vary by agroclimatic zone, to ensure farmers can get as close as possible to research yields in a cost-effective manner. Regular and widespread trainings of extension agents is critical to ensure that this research leaves the laboratories rapidly and significantly affects farmers’ lives.
From the National Agricultural Seed Council, an expansion of activities is required, to enable rapid and low-cost certification of wheat seed production. This requires greater funding of mobility allowances for seed certification officers, awareness campaigns for farmers on the value of certified seed and why it should cost more than grain, and simple technologies to allow farmers to verify if seed labeled as certified is legitimate.
Seed companies need to also rise to the occasion in providing high-quality seeds in sufficient quantities. This can only be achieved through strong partnerships on research and adequate funding to scale up production of high yielding seeds.
From the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, further investment in and attention to irrigation infrastructure is needed, especially in the states above 10 degrees North latitude that are best suited for wheat production. While some farmers finance their own boreholes, expansion and maintenance of surface irrigation infrastructure with the River Basin Development Authorities would allow for much faster expansion of wheat production (not to mention dry season rice and vegetables).
From the Central Bank of Nigeria, credit access for wheat farmers is needed, in terms of large-scale inclusion of wheat in major agricultural credit schemes through public and private financing providers. Credit programs for wheat farmers should include a partnership with local governments and traditional leaders as well as adequate technology and processes for registering and tracking loans to farmers to ensure repayment and sustainability. NIRSAL can play a key role in de-risking and catalyzing lending to players in the wheat value chain.
Finally, the State Governments, as the closest link to farmers, are needed to make more land available to farmers (especially in northern river basins), to ensure timely availability of inputs, and to ensure proper agricultural extension or training of farmers. Ensuring farmers receive the latest information on wheat agronomy requires not only training of extension agents, but the provision of mobility allowances to agents to ensure knowledge leaves the office and gets into farmers’ hands and fields.
Additionally, encouragement of mechanization can be done by clustering wheat farmers so that mechanized services can be offered in a cost-effective way. Various levels of government may partner with manufacturers of threshers, reapers, tractors, seeders, etc. to ensure either local manufacturing or easy import of machines to Nigeria. Focus on low-cost machines that are easy to repair locally is critical to success. Financing will be required to enable entrepreneurs to establish these mechanized services to businesses.
In the near term, it is critical that farmers are able to access the mechanized equipment necessary for them to maximize their harvest yields, as well as sell their grain to get cash for inputs for the coming wet season. Limited entries and handwashing stations at markets is preferable to closure. Similarly, movement of farmers, agricultural equipment and agricultural crops both within and between states should be allowed with temperature checks with limitations on passengers per vehicle, etc.
In conclusion, each of these stakeholders has a vital role to play in ensuring the sustainable development of the wheat value chain. This can only be accomplished through a clear definition of individual roles, strong partnerships and alignment in policies and actions.