By Jason Oke
For Nigeria to become self-sufficient and drastically reduce the importation of wheat by 60 per cent over the next two years as targeted by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), there is need for a concerted effort by government and other critical stakeholders within the wheat value chain to galvanize and aggressively drive the wheat development programmes in the country.
Other measures include the adoption of high-yielding-seed varieties that promote local wheat production per hectare of land and boost food sufficiency in Nigeria. Wheat is used to produce staple foods such as semolina, bread, noodles and pasta, which form a regular part of meals in most urban and rural households in the country.
The importance of wheat foods to the national population therefore underscores the need to develop the domestic wheat value chain which currently is not delivering enough to meet the growing demand for wheat derivatives; hence, the need for interventions from government at different levels and other stakeholders in the wheat value chain to address the challenges in promoting local wheat production in Nigeria.
As it stands, increasing the total yield per hectare of national farmlands is critical to reaching food sufficiency levels that will meet the needs of over 200 million Nigerians.
In deepening the impact of the wheat development programme, the Flour Milling Association of Nigeria to which Crown Flour Mill is a major contributor to, is also working with the Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI) in Maiduguri and the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) at the Ahmadu Bello University, to train local smallholder farmers on the latest agronomic practices.
The expanded wheat development efforts are yielding impressive results. Smallholder farmers that are participating in the FMAN wheat development programmes have shown remarkable technical improvement that is matched by impressive feedbacks and output.
A delegation from Olam, the parent company of CFM, travelled to Jigawa after participating in a wheat development webinar programme organized by the agribusiness conglomerate in Abuja, farmers attested to the impact of the high level of support provided by the millers’ association and its partners.
One of the wheat farmers remarked, “We were advised to plant at a particular time to get the best yield possible but I insisted on doing things my way. It nearly cost me the season, but I came back to the (FMAN) team for assistance and this time around, I heeded their advice and the result was unbelievable.”
Expatiating on CFM’s wheat development support drives, Ashish Pande, the Managing Director of the wheat milling firm said, “Our commitment to research and development is the key to why we’ve been successful as an organization over the years and have been able to consistently create better quality, safe, great-tasting and more reliable food produce/products which meet our customers’ needs and improve the livelihoods of our farmers.”
Meanwhile, in terms of seed varieties, it has been adjudged that the use of certified seeds of improved varieties and adoption of modern farming techniques by farmers are effective production improvement levers that can be utilized to enrich the domestic food landscape.
There is no better time than now to adopt the high-yielding-seed approach geared towards stimulating increased production of wheat on a national scale. Why is this so important? Despite having access to a large expanse of farming lands in places such as Borno, Bauchi, Yobe, Kano, Jigawa and Zamfara States, smallholder wheat farmers have not been able to meet domestic consumption demand for wheat. It is apparent that without removing the seed-variety barrier, the acute shortage of locally produced wheat will persist. Whereas this would necessitate the continued reliance on wheat importation to bridge the widening domestic production-consumption gap, it does not portend well for national food security.
The economic and social costs of relying on wheat importation are enormous. While foreign exchange is being sourced by local wheat millers to import the crop to meet national consumption demand, the exchange position of the local currency is affected and precious employment opportunities that could be generated by smallholder farmers if harvest reaches full capacity, are also lost.
Stressing the need to remove the seed variety barrier to improved domestic wheat production, Mohammed Salim, president of the Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN) said, “One of our challenges is getting quality seeds every two years. Wheat is an open-pollinated crop and the maximum you can do with a particular seed is four years or thereabout. So, if the government can finance the research institutes to come up with new varieties every two years, that will sustain production and keep the farmers in business.”
Going by this insight by Salim, providing sufficient finance to fund local research institutes to develop new seed varieties for local farmers biennially is key to bridging the domestic production-consumption gap in the wheat value chain.
However, Crown Flour Mill Limited (CFM), a subsidiary of the Olam Group and makers of the Mama Gold flour brand, in collaboration with other members of the Flour Milling Association of Nigeria (FMAN), is leveraging its agro experience, extensive industry network and deep investment portfolio to aggressively support the domestic agro research institutes to drive innovation and make high-yielding seed varieties available to local wheat farmers. The investment and innovative approach form a bold new drive to raising local wheat production levels while keeping smallholder farmers in business, as suggested by Salim.
As part of the collaborative approach to make high yielding seed varieties available to local wheat farmers, CFM, alongside other contributors and partners at the milling association, under the Certified Seed Production Programme, have established a research farm to nurture the seed varieties it brought into the country from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Sudan and Mexico. These efforts add to an ongoing partnership that the millers are implementing with various seed production companies comprising Rahama Seed, Greenspore and Premier seed.
In the coming months, the massive partnership network is expected to lead to the distribution of 150 tons of wheat seeds to around 3,000 smallholder farmers in Nigeria.
The deliberate wheat development programmes embarked upon by CFM and others under the auspices of flour milling association, when fully optimized, will no doubt reduce the high dependence on imported wheat. It will also reduce the foreign exchange wheat import bill while boosting the national economic diversification agenda.
In the end, the Nigerian consumers are going to be the real beneficiaries of the increasing level of the various interventions and wheat development programmes undertaken by CFM and other leading millers. The consumers will continue to have access to their most cherished wheat foods such as semolina, pasta, noodles and bread at the right quality, quantity, nutritional value and most affordable shelf price.