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Farmers identify challenges to wheat production, demand actions from FG

By Femi Ibirogba (Lagos) and Ahmad Muhammad (Kano)
25 October 2021   |   3:01 am
Farmers, researchers and industrialists have lamented abysmal low wheat production in the country, saying over 95 per cent dependence on imported wheat from the United States of America

Nigeria produces less than five per cent
• CBN multiplies 13,000MT foundation seeds
• Farmers allege an international conspiracy

Farmers, researchers and industrialists have lamented abysmal low wheat production in the country, saying over 95 per cent dependence on imported wheat from the United States of America and other countries is unacceptable, unsustainable and expensive as forex demand soars and food inflation gets worse.

Data available indicates Nigeria produces about five per cent of its need with production hovering around 60,000 metric tonnes, and yearly demand stands at between 4.5 and 5.0 million tonnes, according to US Department of Agriculture, Foreign Affairs Service.

However, reducing wheat importation requires good planning, mobilisation of resources and empowerment of farmers with, perhaps, subsidised improved varieties and agro-chemicals, grain breeders and agronomists have said.

Also, Nigerian wheat farmers have expressed readiness to ensure productivity if equipped with quality, cost-effective and timely inputs backed with production infrastructure.

Most farmers who spoke with The Guardian identified improved and high-yielding seed varieties, fertiliser, insecticides and herbicides as essential inputs, while production infrastructure includes irrigation facilities and mechanical tools such as land preparation equipment and sprayers, as wheat is mostly cultivated in the dry/harmattan season.

Currently, these inputs are grossly inadequate, and farmers are helpless as far as wheat cultivation is concerned. Combined with insecurity, which has left several hectares uncultivated and farming communities abandoned, planting, crop protection and yield-boosting materials remain the greatest obstacles to wheat production.

Assessing declining wheat farming in Borno, Kano
Apart from production input difficulty, insecurity has disrupted wheat breeding, multiplication and production in Borno State, especially in the Lake Chad region.

The Lake Chad Research Institute, saddled with the responsibility of breeding, improving on and multiplication of improved wheat seeds and extension services, has had its activities hindered by years of Boko Haram insurgency.

In Kano State, one of the farmers, Alhaji Hussainy Inusa, based in Kura Local Government Area, lamented that wheat farming is on the decline in the state, as more farmers are forced out of the business due to massive importation and lack of support from the government.

According to him, another factor militating against wheat farming is the dependence on irrigation, but most of the dams used are no longer working optimally, and tube wells for irrigation are mostly beyond the reach of resource-poor farmers.

Meanwhile, the Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN) has been advocating cuts on the importation of wheat to create a production value chain that can generate employment, guarantee food security and conserve the nation’s foreign exchange.

The National President of WFAN, Salim Muhammad, recently said this at a one-day agro-communication strategy sensitisation workshop organised by the Agro-Processing, Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support Project (APPEALS), Kano State Coordination Office.

He claimed Nigeria spends over $4.2 billion yearly on the importation of wheat to meet its local demand of over 4.7 million metric tonnes, yet the country is blessed with both human and material resources to meet the demand and export.

“The same energy spent in encouraging the production of rice should also be extended to wheat production. Local demand for wheat in Nigeria is well over 4.7 million metric tonnes, while production is below five per cent of local demand. This is a great challenge that the Federal Government must tackle.

“The over $4.2 billion that we spend to import wheat, half of it can be used to grow the wheat and even extend it to other countries through exportation,” he said.

He also alleged international conspiracy against wheat farming in Africa and Nigeria particularly, saying: “Americans are the largest producers of wheat in the world. Most of the milling factories in Nigeria have been purchased by the Americans, but they encourage the growing of wheat in their home country and then export them to Nigeria, thereby giving a large chunk of the employment to their people, depleting our foreign reserves at the detriment of the Nigerian people.

“They hardly accept that the quality of our own wheat from our farm is good enough for processing.

“So, in my own perspective, they are dumping on us and not allowing us to grow, while we have the potentiality to grow the commodity in this country. We have large land of over 650,000 hectares to grow wheat with available human resources,” he noted.

Another wheat farmer in Tarauni Local Government Area of Kano, Abdulkareem Muhammad, harped on the need to develop a production road map and to look into challenges militating against wheat production.

“It is quite unfortunate most of us who have been in this business for quite some time now have to close shop due to lack of support from the government, even the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has not reached us.

“Most of us now have resorted to rice farming because it is more rewarding. If you plant wheat now, you are bound to face challenges, ranging from an improved variety of seed in every two years, lack of fertiliser and insecticides,” he said.

He added that “the off-takers, that is the flour millers, should give appreciable price to the farmers, purchase the product in good time and make sure that all that is produced is purchased, otherwise the Federal Government should develop an alternative programme of buying the excesses too.”

CBN intervention
Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) harped on its resolve to face challenges in wheat production to cut the country’s foreign spending on its importation.

Its Director, Development Finance Department, Philip Yila Yusuf, disclosed this in Abuja at the Wheat Conference and Stakeholder Engagement, with the theme: ‘Improving and Sustaining the Wheat Value Chain Development in Nigeria.’

He said having realised the importance of wheat to food security drive, the bank’s focus is on its value chain for 2021/2022 dry season planting became imperative after sustainable progress had been made across the rice and maize value chains.

Yusuf had said: “The CBN plans to address key problems in the value chain through financing massive production of wheat in Nigeria, and seeks to facilitate sustained availability of high yield seed varieties in-country and improve general productivity.”

Wheat is the second highest contributor to Nigeria’s food import bill, he lamented, mounting pressure on foreign reserves. He added that over $2 billion was spent yearly on the importation of over 5.0 million metric tonnes of wheat.

He further estimated that only 63,000MT of wheat, out of the 5-6 million MT consumed annually, is produced locally, noting that the CBN intervention became critical due to its high demand in Nigeria and prevailing shortages.

‘’The CBN plans to address key problems in the value chain through financing massive production of wheat in Nigeria, and seeks to facilitate sustained availability of high yield seed varieties in-country and improve general productivity.’’

Speaking with The Guardian on the current government efforts on wheat cultivation, ex-Director-General of the Lake Chad Research Institute, and consultant to CBN on wheat seed multiplication, Dr Oluwasina Olabanji, explained some moves to rev up production.

Olanbanji said the CBN had facilitated the importation of 13,000 metric tonnes of heat-tolerant wheat foundation seeds, which were being multiplied in Jos, Plateau State and other locations.

Insecurity, he added, had made it impossible to multiply or grow wheat in Borno, Adamawa and other traditional wheat-producing states.

The wheat breeder/agronomist disclosed that to maximise its production in the country, marginal areas for wheat production would be explored in the dry season farming.

Typically, he explained, about 13 states are suitable for growing wheat but insecurity had drastically reduced the capacity, but new frontiers where trials would experiment in the 2021/2022 dry season planting include Niger, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Benue and Oyo States.

To Olanbanji, the new marginal frontiers would expand the capacity of the country to boost wheat production, though productivity per hectare might be lower compared to the traditional wheat-producing belts.

Demonstration plots, he added, would be experimented with by the Lake Chad Research Institute, wheat farmers and flour millers, and this is expected to reduce importation of wheat soon.

Meanwhile, former Minister of Agriculture and President of African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwumi Adesina, recently implied that by stopping the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) he put in place before 2015, over 15 million farmers that the scheme reached with high-quality seeds and fertilisers had been cut off from such critical inputs needed for Nigeria’s food production. When it existed, the scheme expanded the food basket of the country by an additional 21 million metric tonnes, Adesina had proved and urged the Federal Government to restore the scheme.