The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has intervened to bail farmers out of the challenge of inadequate seeds, adjudged as the most critical input retarding wheat production in the country.
Farmers, researchers and industrialists have constantly faced production impediments, including poor quality of inputs and inadequate infrastructure.
The country produces less than five per cent of the yearly needs, putting pressure of foreign exchange as over 90 per cent of wheat consumed locally is imported.
The US Department of Agriculture’s data says Nigeria produces about 60,000 metric tonnes, and yearly demand stands at between 4.5 and 5.0 million tonnes.
To change the gloomy production data and decelerate the pressure on the economy, the CBN recently reiterated its resolve to face challenges in wheat production by making inputs available to farmers.
It will be recalled that a former Minister of Agriculture and President of African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwumi Adesina, recently said at a ministerial retreat organized for the executive council of the Federal Government that by stopping the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) in 2015, critical inputs were disrupted not only to wheat but also to rice and sorghum farmers.
The CBN 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 move of the country, the bank’s focus 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.
Furthermore, he 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.”
A former Director-General of the Lake Chad Research Institute, and consultant to CBN on wheat seed multiplication, Dr Oluwasina Olabanji, explained to some journalists some of the steps taken by the apex bank to rev up production.
He explained that the regulatory bank had facilitated importation of about 13,000 metric tonnes of improved and heat-tolerant wheat seeds, which were being multiplied in Jos, Plateau State and other locations.
He disclosed that to maximise its production in the country, marginal areas for wheat production would be explored in the dry season farming.
Olabanji explained that about 13 states are suitable for growing wheat in Nigeria, but insecurity had drastically reduced their capacity.
However, he added, frontiers, where trial plots would be experimented in the 2021/2022 dry season, include Niger, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Benue and Oyo States. To him, the new frontiers would expand the capacity of the country to boost wheat production.
Again, he pointed out that productivity per hectare might be lower in the new frontiers compared to the existing wheat-producing belts.
Trial hectares, he added, would be planted and maintained by the Lake Chad Research Institute, wheat farmers and flour millers, and this is expected to reduce importation of wheat.
Lamenting production hurdles, the National President of WFAN, Salim Muhammad, also said Nigeria spends over $4.2 billion yearly on 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.
He said this at a one-day agro-communication strategy workshop organised by the Agro-Processing, Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support Project (APPEALS), Kano State Coordination Office recently.
He said: “The same energy spent in encouraging the production of rice should also be extended to wheat production. Local demand of 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 import 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 Kano State, 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.
However, Olabanji said the efforts would soon begin to lessen the difficulty of farmers, particularly concerning the inability to get good seeds.
He also urged the Federal Government and wheat-producing states to invest more in wheat seed multiplication and distribution to farmers.