By Chinyere Anyanwu [email protected]
Ways and strategies to curb Nigeria’s huge wheat import bill that currently stands at about $6 billion annually was the crux of recent discussions among experts and stakeholders in the wheat sub-sector.
According to statistics, the nation’s wheat demand is 45 million metric tonnes per annum while its production rate comes at about 300,000 metric tonnes per annum, a situation which creates a huge demand-supply gap of about 44.7 million metric tonnes per annum.
As part of its efforts to ensure that the current narrative is changed, Olam Nigeria Ltd, a major stakeholder in the wheat value chain, engaged key stakeholders, scientists, and relevant actors across the value chain for its inaugural Green Land webinar series.
The virtual conference with the theme, “Deepening the Wheat Farming Development Programme in Nigeria through innovation, increasing investments and collaborations,” afforded participants the opportunity to x-ray the challenges confronting wheat production in the country while proffering solutions to identified problems.
In his opening remarks, the Managing Director, Crown Flour Mill Limited, an Olam subsidiary, Ashish Pande, said the focus of the event was “the two key drivers of the value chain, the what and how, to improve the overall efficiency of the value chain and therefore increase wheat production in the country.”
Pande explained that, “this year, Olam’s ambition is to do research into the development of different kinds of seeds so that we will all have bountiful wheat harvests in the future for Nigeria. We also want to create an ecosystem where we have a great number of partnerships and collaborations to reach out to people from other parts of the world and share ideas and learn more things.”
Speaking at the event, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, who was represented by Dr. Richard-Mark Mbaram, Technical Adviser on Knowledge Management & Communications of the ministry, stated that the present administration’s aim is to reduce the country’s wheat import bill by at least 80 per cent. He assured that, “all players who are supporting that effort, particularly big players like Olam, Flour Mills and all members of the Flour Millers Association of Nigeria, are welcome and will get the support of the ministry.”
The keynote speaker, Dr. Filippo Maria Bassi, Senior Scientist, Durum Wheat Breeder, International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Morocco, in his address said it is possible to have a thriving wheat production system in Nigeria when the right variety of wheat seeds are provided for farmers, with innovations, as well as incorporating the farmers themselves.
Bassi said Nigeria will make good progress along the wheat value chain once it is able to define the ideal seed variety for each region.
For Alhaji Salim Saleh Muhammad, National President, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN), who spoke on challenges and opportunities in wheat farming in Nigeria, noted that the value chain is beset with a myriad of challenges including shortage of good quality high yielding seed variety.
Muhammad, who called for government intervention in the wheat production sub-sector, stated that to improve production of the crop in the country, there has to be “synergy between farmers, policymakers, financiers, researchers and off takers.”
According to the Chairman, House Committee on Agricultural Colleges and Institutions, House of Representatives, Alhaji Munir Babba Dan Agundi, increasing wheat production in the country will involve adequate funding and good policymaking.
He said, “wheat production is something that has to be taken seriously. If we are not able to increase productivity by at least 70 per cent, then we will go no where in terms of feeding the population.”
He stated that, “the Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI) has been able to develop heat-resistant wheat variety that has just been released by Nigeria.”
Also speaking, Dr. Kachalla Kyari Mala, Principal Research Officer, LCRI, Maiduguri, Borno State, who delved into the role of research in deepening wheat farming development in Nigeria, said the country’s huge wheat import bill needs to be reduced by at least 50 per cent through increase in local production.
Enumerating areas that need serious attention in order to move the wheat sub-sector forward, Mala said, “for us to attain 50 per cent cost reduction in importation, we need to increase planting seeds supply to our farmers; we have to move into mechanised farming; we need to expand our irrigation facilities; we need to ensure adequate supply of inputs such as fertilisers, planting seeds and agro-chemicals, and also training of extension workers.”
Wheat Champion at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Stephen Ambore, assured of the bank’s willingness to support agriculture owing to its understanding of the importance of the sector to the economy.
According to him, “since 2015, the bank has been actively financing the agricultural value chain through various commodities. The CBN has financed a total of 21 commodities since 2015.”
He added that the Olam Green Land Webinar theme aptly captures the requirements for raising the level of wheat production in Nigeria, which include partnerships, collaborations, investments and innovations. He urged immediate action to implement the various insights shared at the webinar.