… Nigeria can earn N3trn annually
By Steve Agbota
The rising demand for wheat-based food as against local wheat production has shown that the enormous potentials in wheat production is yet to be tapped in the country.
However, policy somersault, lack of political will, lean government commitment towards the development of agriculture in Nigeria have tremendously contributed to the daunting challenges facing wheat production and which is making the commodity insufficient in the country.
Looking at the fact that Nigeria is blessed with fertile land for wheat farming, the nation still spends N650 billion annually importing the product. Part of the problems facing wheat production include lack of government’s support to provide inputs such as hybrid seeds, fertilizer, poor funding and mechanized tools for wheat farmers.
Coupled with the population of Nigerians who consume wheat as food on daily basis and the number of conglomerates that turn raw wheat into finished products, it is estimated that both the government and farmers can rake in about N3 trillion annually in the next three years if the potentials of the commodity is properly harnessed and given priority by the three tiers of the government.
Statistically, the total amount of wheat consumed in Nigeria is put around 4.5 million tons per annum and the local production is only about 120,000 tonnes per annum, leaving a huge gap to be covered by importation. Nigeria is regarded as one of the greatest importers of US wheat and the market continues to grow in an unprecedented rate.
Experts who spoke to Daily Sun said that if the country could commit one per cent of the money spent on importation to wheat value chain in the next two years, Nigeria would be self-sufficient in wheat production and export to neighbouring countries just like India.
Reports have it that India no longer imports wheat from US because it is now self- sufficient in wheat production through the adoption of the Green Revolution Policy. The Indian Agricultural Research Institute also claims credit for enabling the Green Revolution, in part, by developing rust resistant strains of wheat.
The introduction of high-yielding varieties of seeds (hybrid seeds), increased use of chemical fertilisers and irrigation led to the increase in production needed to make India self-sufficient in food, grains, thus improving agriculture in the country. This, the Federal Government is advised to adopt in order to avoid hunger in the land in the next two years.
The Executive Director Lake Chad Research Institute, Maiduguri, Dr. Oluwasina Gbenga Olabanji, said Nigeria has the potentials to produce wheat to become self-sufficient in the product. He said that there is one million hectares of land that is suitable for irrigated wheat in Nigeria, as the Institute developed two varieties that can give up to five to six tons per hectare.
He added: “If all the land is put into use and we do include the new varieties, there is no reason Nigeria cannot be self-sufficient in wheat production and not be able to export to other neighboring countries like Cameroon, Chad and Niger. But the problem with Nigeria is policy somersault. Today, somebody would come up with a policy that they are banning importation of food, and another government would come and say it has lifted the ban.
“These are policy are somersault, but if our government can be totally focused, identify three or four key priority crops that will make Nigeria to be self sufficient in food in the next five years and give it the necessary backing particularly funding and environmental friendly policies that can drive the policy, we will have no reason to import. As far as wheat is concerned, there was no market for Nigerian wheat before. But today, we have created the market for wheat. The millers are taking up our wheat,” he added.
He said that there was an MoU signed between the Flour Millers Association of Nigeria and the Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria, but the challenge now is how to meet the demand of these millers, which, he said, depends on government. He said that the government must support the wheat farmers adequately in the country.
He explained that India now is self-sufficient in wheat because they adopted improved technology, promoted mechanized farming, as their government don’t expect farmers to be using cutlass and hoe in this modern world to cultivate their farms.
He said: “If Nigerian government is serious about agriculture, it must provide modern tools for farming. Tractors have to be available, seed planters have to be available, harvesters have to be available and all these things can be in zones since all these farmers are already in association; you can even make it available to them and sell it to them at a subsidised rate. Then, we will key into it. But the government must provide inputs such as seeds; fertilisers and it must make agriculture attractive even to the youth through mechanised farming.”
He explained that a 100kg bag of wheat is sold between N15,000 to N18,000 at the market, but if a farmer can produce 200 bags that farmer is already a millionaire.
Speaking on mechanised farming, he said that there is a department under Federal Ministry of Agriculture that handles mechanised tools but the department was not adequately funded, lamenting that government was promoting mechanised farming on the pages of newspapers, since there is little evidence to prove it is supporting the sector.
Before the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) of Federal Ministry of Agriculture in 2012, he disclosed that Nigeria’s area of production of wheat was about 50,000 hectares and farmers were getting about 80, 000 metric tonnes during the period.
He explained: “In the 2016/2017 season, which is coming up in November, we propose to cultivate 300, 000 hectares. And with that 300, 000 hectares, at an average yield of 4,000 tonnes per hectare, that is 1.2 million metric tonnes. And subsequently, we will continue to improve. By 2017/2018 season, we are proposing 500,000 hectares, that is two million metric tonnes. Within three years, Nigeria can be self-sufficient in wheat production because we have the suitable environment, good topography to produce wheat. What is lacking is real commitment and political will from all the three tiers of government to support wheat, rice, maize and other crops. There is no reason why Nigeria should be importing all these crops.”