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COVID-19, insurgency slow wheat production

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• How politics frustrates cassava, sorghum flour inclusion bill • Import hits N735 billion yearly
• 10 per cent cassava flour substitution needs no enzymes, says expert

The ongoing lockdown as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the insurgency in the North East have exposed Nigeria’s lack of capacity and infrastructure to produce wheat locally.The situation is even more sombre as the country’s wheat importation has reached N735 billion yearly.

Furthermore, the inability of four successive administrations ( of Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan, Muhammadu Buhari) to pass the bill for a law requiring wheat flour to contain 10 to 20 per cent cassava or sorghum has worsened the dependency on importation.

Reliable data shows that Nigeria spends N735,840,000,000 importing the product yearly, despite the Federal Government’s import substitution, crop industrialisation and backward integration policies.

The production expected this year, according to the Lake Chad Research Institute,is about 150,000 metric tonnes. This represents an insignificant fraction of the yearly demand of about 5.26 million metric tonnes.

The country therefore has a deficit of over 5.1 million tonnes (5,110,000), which cost N735,840,000,000 to import. The figures were derived using the $400-per-tonne benchmark and a dollar-naira exchange rate of N360.

Proving that the country could substitute with cassava and sorghum flour, President of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops Prof. Lateef Sanni said cassava alone could give about 300,000 metric tonnes of high quality flour yearly.

Sanmi, who is also former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, said:“We have proven technologies and evidence-based facts that Nigeria should keep to maximum of 10 per cent inclusion of high quality cassava flour (HQCF) in wheat flour for bread making and other confectionaries. This alone can give the country 300,000 tonnes of cassava flour annually. It is more than enough for the industries.”

He explained that one of his PhD students, Dr Isaac Onigbogi, demonstrated the use of cassava starch and HQCF for noodles at the Wheat Marketing Centre, Oregon, United States of America, and the viability was affirmed.

“There is no need of enzymes and there is no need to include above 10 per cent. We should think big but start small. Nigerians have invested billions of naira in HQCF machinery since 2004 under ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo when Chief Audu Ogbeh was the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party and are still investing based on the Cassava Transformation Agenda Programme and the Agriculture Promotion Policy initiatives of the Federal Government,” he said.

His team at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Integrated Cassava Project demonstrated its usage in 26 states of the federation with bakers. 
Unfortunately, a bill for an act to provide for the mandatory 20 per cent inclusion of HQCF or sorghum to wheat flour and its derivatives, and the establishment of a special tax regime for mixed wheat flour,(which was the subject of deliberations of farmers, processors, dealers, bakers and the media in the country from 2012 to 2015), did not sail through.

Part of the draft bill says, “As from the commencement of this act (bill), it shall be mandatory for all makers of edible flour in Nigeria to ensure the 20 per cent inclusion of high quality cassava flour in wheat flour produced in the country or imported.”

The bill also gave a 10 per cent reduction in corporate, personal income and VAT on mixed wheat and cassava and sorghum flour sales revenues, noting: “For legal entities that manufacture high quality cassava flour, (there is) the suspension of corporate, personal income and VAT; for legal entities that manufacture high quality sorghum flour, (there is) the suspension of corporate, personal income and VAT.”

Analysts, however, said the politicisation of the bill prompted the failure of the policy. Cassava, a root crop mainly from the southern states and some north central states, was seen as getting more prominence, and it was feared that farmers from the core north would be excluded.

The Director General of the Lake Chad Research Institute Dr Gbenga Olabanji told The Guardian that Nigeria produced about 300 metric tonnes in the 2016/2017 planting season because the government empowered farmers with improved seeds and fertilizer.“But in the 2017/2018 planting season, production declined because the government failed to produce inputs, and the insurgency in the North East zone affected wheat-producing areas.”

He noted further: “In the 2019/2020 planting season, because some flour millers are doing backward integration and doing out-grower schemes, the expected metric tonnes of wheat would not be lesser than 150,000.”

Olabanji faulted the claim of some members of the Flour Millers Association of Nigeria that the country produces only a paltry 60,000 tonnes of wheat on approximately 60,000 hectares of farmland.

Disputing the figures, he stressed that Nigeria produces not less than 150,000 metric tonnes of wheat because more out-grower schemes, interventions, seed multiplication and cultivation are carried out by most private companies either as a backward integration policy or as a separate business entity.

Low wheat yield per hectare is attributable to poor soil quality, low-yielding varieties, planting of wheat grains as seeds,and the limitation of suitable climate. Planting in Nigeria begins during the harmattan in late November or early December while harvest takes place around April.

Another challenge, according to Olabanji, is that bread wheat is a temperate crop. “Temperature is the most critical at tillering and grain filling during which one-degree rise in temperature could reduce wheat yield by four per cent. Thus, the development of heat-tolerant spring wheat genotypes that could tolerate high temperature regimes were developed and released to farmers,” he said.

In a report on monitoring and evaluation of wheat farms established by a flour miller in Kano and Jigawa States during the 2019/2020 season, Olabanji said: “Bread wheat (Triticumaestivum L) is one of the most adaptable dry season irrigated crops of the Savanna. Its productivity in Nigeria is relatively low and dependent on the growing season, time of sowing, irrigation schedule, fertilisation, crop rotation and pest and disease control.”

The wheat specialist said from the available records, Nigeria could attain self-sufficiency in wheat production, provided the timely supply of inputs such as quality seeds, fertiliser, pesticides and effective management of pre and post-harvest activities and suitable farm machinery are adopted.

According to him, Nigeria is widely endowed with both arable and irrigable land resources and favourable hydrological and topographical features suitablefor wheat production. The total potential area for irrigation under the River Basin Development Authorities is about 650,000 hectares.

There are currently 12 River Basin Development Authorities responsible for implementing the irrigation development policies of the Federal Government in addition to other state irrigation schemes and Fadama (irrigable land) initiative.

According to Olabanji, in Borno State alone, about 200,000 hectares have been identified as suitable for Fadama development while Kano State has a potential area of about 90,000 hectares.The insurgency however prevents active investments and intensive work.

Bauchi State developed up to 14,000 hectares of Fadama land between 1983 and 1988. Because of the shallow depth of the water table in the Fadama areas, tube wells and wash bores could be effectively used to sustain crop production.

The report said though not all of such land would be available for wheat production, the current price of wheat is attractive enough for it to compete favourably with other traditionally favoured high cash value crops such as vegetables. Additionally, wheat has the advantage for easier storage.

Similarly, while giving an insight into what the country could do to increase wheat production, a grain breeding specialist and Vice Chancellor of Al-Qalam University, Katsina, Prof. Shehu Garki Ado, said crop production depends on two factors: genetic property of the seeds and suitable environment for production.

Genetic potentiality of most wheat seed varieties is poor, ranging from 700kgs to 1000kgs per hectare. Ado said even if the best of the environment were available, the genetic potentiality would affect yield per hectare, accounting for poor production.

Again, there is the lack of a suitable environment for wheat production, he added. The right environment, he explained, should include fertile and suitable soil, right temperature, favourable relative humidity, adequate rainfall or irrigation, time of planting, plant population per hectare, adequate and timely use of fertiliser.

Ado advised that empowering farmers with genetically improved seed varieties and educating them on providing a suitable environment for wheat cultivation would make a difference. Therefore, a concerted effort needs to be made in accelerated seed multiplication and delivery system to reach the targets of wheat self-sufficiency while confronting the emerging challenges and threats of climate change.

Olabanji recommended the development of irrigation facilities and promotion of mechanised farming as prerequisites to wheat self-sufficiency in Nigeria, saying: “With adequate planning, judicious use of limited resources, political will, discipline and determination, Nigeria will be self-sufficient in wheat production in no distant future.”


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