Nigeria’s Wheat Production Capability Contends With Several Factors
• We Cannot Afford To Ban Wheat Import – Dr. Olabanji, ED, LCRI
Nigeria’s rising population, presently put at 170m puts increased pressure on its demand for staples like maize, rice, wheat, millet and cowpea.
By extension, the production capacity for these crops is also being stretched within the limits of varying agricultural and economic combinations.
Of the various grains consumed in the country, the consumption pattern in 2012 showed that about 9 million metric tons (MMT) of maize, 6MMT sorghum, 8MMT millet and 4MMT wheat found their place for either domestic or industrial use. The bottom-of-list position of wheat notwithstanding, the demand for wheat based food products seems to be going up especially the noodles, and whole-wheat meals in which the locals make it like fufu or pounded yam.
In homes and restaurants, the demand for ‘wheat,’ as it is popularly called, served with Nigerian soups is increasing; it is either made from local wheat grain or the processed whole wheat by flour millers are used directly.
With the National Emergency Management Agency and donor agencies purchasing more wheat and wheat-based products to feed more than one million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as a result of the Boko Haram insurgencies, demand for wheat grains continues to increase. Incidentally, the displaced persons are mainly from the wheat-growing parts of the country and farmers are as well affected.
In spite of this consumption pattern, the 80,000MT of wheat harvested in 2012/13 falls far short of national demand, even the current production of 150,000MMT as revealed by Dr. Gbenga Olabanji, Executive Director of Lake Chad Research Institute leaves milling industry requirement in a wobble, if they were to rely on that for shop floor operations.
However, a recent USAID survey showed that, ‘2015/16 wheat production is estimated at 60,000MT, a projected decline of approximately 17 per cent from the previous year of 70,000 tons.’ It stated that Nigeria is a major wheat market for Hard Red Winter, while there is also a growing demand for Soft Red Winter for biscuits and cookies; Hard White Wheat for breads and noodles; and Durum Wheat for pasta. They all point to the indispensability of the grain in the nation’s food and nutrition security.
Experts estimates that following the various uses to which the grain is put, wheat consumption will likely make a 17 per cent increase from the current 4.2 million MT to hit about 4.7 million MT.
Projection by Federal Ministry of Agriculture officials was that by 2015, the nation would be able to produce half of its demand of about 4MMT, but as it stands presently, only 150,000MT is reportedly on ground at the end of the harvest last season.
With a realistic yearly demand for wheat of 3.7MMT, the plan to cut import by half this year and even the next, with the challenge of insurgency, seed, fund, machinery and the number of farmers to be engaged may not be achieved.
Olabanji is not under any illusion, same with Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development that the nation has the capacity to produce its requirement and cut expenditure on imports especially with the introduction of improved seeds.
Two varieties, Atilla Gan Atilla and Norman Borlaug, reputed to give a yield of an average of 4-5tons per hectare have already been distributed to the farmers as the target of halving import by 2017 remains in the front burner.
The Lake Chad Chief researcher, Olabanji says, ‘We are releasing two varieties of rain fed wheat for planting by June 2015 – this is a novel thing. They have potential yield of 3-4 tons/ha, while the irrigated ones, 5-6 tons/ha, compared to the old order of 2 tons/ha. This is a result of the intervention of the Federal Government in the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA).”
Olabanji said there is opportunity for rain-fed wheat in the country. This can be found in highlands such as Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State, Jos in Plateau State, and Obudu in Cross River State. Under these rain-fed areas, Nigeria has about 80,000 hectares of land suitable for wheat production.
The plan to make the nation self-sufficient in wheat production remains a policy worth pursuing and Olabanji hopes there would be no policy flip flop by the in-coming Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
A Policy flux caused by the military administration in the 80s, when it reversed itself on the wheat import ban and left wheat farmers nationwide with grain stock that was not purchased discouraged them.
“ We suffered great losses in spite of the investment made and labour expended; the Federal Government failed us then,” lamented Alhaji Muhammad Sahabi Augie, President of Rice Farmers in Kebbi State and also a wheat farmer. Augie, who represented Alhj. Ibrahim Argungu, Wheat Farmers’ President said the Kebbi state government must be commended for the recent buyback programme for wheat at the rate of N250 per kilogram.
Olabanji said there are about 148,000 wheat farmers so far registered under the GES of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, who are ready to go back to do about 350,000ha to grow wheat. With this, other things being equal, the plan to reduce import by half in 2017 would truly be on course.
With national demand above 3.7m MT, the 150,000MT production says more than enough about our huge potential. However, the challenges need both political and fiscal will to tackle, if self-sufficiency is to be realised.
For now the cost of production is quite high as revealed by Engr. Garba Abba, Managing Director of Chad Basin Development Authority in Borno State. The matrix of production of locally cultivated wheat must be such that it is economically viable over a period of time in comparison with other wheat-growing countries.
Based on some of these issues, Olabanji does not support the idea of wheat import ban since he thinks Nigeria has all it takes to compete. Moreover, there is treaty signed by nations with respect to trade liberalisation, he stressed adding that what Nigeria needs is a gestation period in the business of growing wheat after which the economies of scale begins to play up posi