Wheat Self-Sufficiency: How Lack Of Power, Insurgency Hinder Production
Although Nigeria has vast arable land suitable to grow enough wheat to meet its national demand and Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) poised to stimulate substantial quantities by its 2017 projection, facts on ground point to the contrary.
One of the natural resources with which to actualise the dream of growing sufficient wheat is the body of water in Lake Chad. But more than 35 years after the Southern Chad irrigation project was commissioned by former Military Head of State, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd), the national electricity grid is yet to get to New Marte, the location of the project.
The scheme has relied on diesel product to power its 30-megawatt station until it came to a halt due to the activities of Boko Haram insurgency, which is most severe in the northeast of the country.
In an interview with The Guardian, Engr Garba Abba, Managing Director, Chad Basin Development Authority said the project was conceived with water supply from Lake Chad in mind to source the irrigation of the entire catchment area of Borno State, Yobe State, northern Adamawa State among others.
He said the most daunting challenge is that of power. “Since the water level in the lake is lower than the farm level, water has to be pumped up some 16 metres.
This means that a lot of energy is consumed in the daily operation and the purchase of diesel and spares constitutes major cost centres for the irrigation project since it is not connected to the national grid.”
Energy cost has gone up several cycles, from three kobo per litre in the 70s to N160 per litre in Maiduguri at present, adding that connecting the grid, 124km away from the state capital would be the best thing to happen to the scheme, he stressed. “
If the irrigation project is connected, cost of production can go down by 70 per cent and competing with others in wheat production becomes comparable.”
He lamented the inability to get the power issue settled since the Obasanjo days, when it was commissioned. Of the land area of 76,000 hectares under the irrigation scheme, only about 26,000 has been developed.
However, Abba said 5,000 hectares was cultivated in 2012/2013 farming season, but an estimated 500MT was expected at harvest. Even at a lowly less than two tonnes per hectare, the security challenges that severely hit the northeast did not allow completion of harvest.
Two thirds of the 5,000 hectares of wheat were left without being harvested in New Marte, where about 200 metric tonnes of wheat was lost as a result of the displacement of 19,000 farmers.
He said only a third of the crop was harvested and the rest left at the mercy of the insurgents, who have put that area under captivity.
Even the forays of the Nigerian Army to rout them from the area has not recorded the desired success as recent reports say the insurgents are still in control of some parts of the territory.
On the seeds, used by farmers, Abba said they get those for planting in the new season from the previous year’s harvest as well as the Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI).
For now, wheat production in the area that accounts for about 30 per cent of national output has been put on hold by the ravaging insurgents in that part of the country and the waiting game to produce enough of the grain continues for millers nationwide.
Though Nigerians remain optimistic that there would soon be a return to normalcy, the area, home and farm to thousands of locals is still a ghost land and farms remain deserted, Abba revealed.