Nigeria Has What It Takes To Produce Wheat, Says Dr. Olabanji



Dr. Oluwasina Gbenga Olabanji is the Executive Director, Lake Chad Research Institute and Team Leader, Wheat Value Chain, whose institute has the national mandate for the genetic improvement of wheat, millet and barley. He spoke to FABIAN ODUM on the target of 2017 for meeting half the national demand, challenges and place of private sector in attaining this goal.

Place of wheat in Nigeria, the potential
NIGERIA has the potential for the production of wheat and fortunately, we can grow wheat under the irrigated and rainfed conditions.

Irrigated wheat is grown in the northern parts of the country, where the night temperatures range between 15-20 degrees Celsius.

Some states have been identified that possess such conditions – Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Jigawa, Gombe, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi Zamfara and Sokoto.

For the rain fed wheat that grows in highlands, the areas include Gembu (Mambilla Plateau) in Taraba State, Jos (Plateau) and Obudu (Cross River State). These are areas of high altitude since the grain can grow in altitude of up to 1,850m above sea level. We are releasing two varieties of rain fed wheat for planting by June 2015 – this is a novel thing. They have potential yield of 3-4 tons/ha, while the irrigated ones, 5-6 tons/ha, compared to the old order of 2 tons/ha. This is a result of the intervention of the Federal Government in the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA).

Achieving self-sufficiency
We have estimated 650,000 ha suitable for wheat production in the country, even without the Fadama areas in Kebbi and Borno. The Fadama zones would add additional 100,000ha suitable for irrigated wheat. For rain fed wheat, we would add another 85,000ha in the three highlands.

When the wheat value chain started in 2012, we registered about 48,000 wheat farmers in 2012/13, but in May 2015, we have 148,000 farmers in our wheat database.
On the output?

During the accelerated wheat programme in 1987, the Federal Government banned the importation of the grain to encourage local production. Within three years, our production rose from 50,000MT to 450,000MT. Many farmers went into the production.

Incidentally, even some states without comparative advantage in wheat production also moved to produce, but were discouraged as the cost was very high.

However, after three years, the same government lifted the ban and wheat production declined to 80,000MT from 450,000MT. Many wheat farmers then went into rice, maize and vegetables – we lost many wheat farmers.

With the intervention of the wheat value chain, we have recorded more than 148,000 farmers ready to grow wheat. Our strategies? The team went into advocacy and sensitisation of governors of wheat-producing states, wheat farmers, and programme managers of ADPs to see the need to produce the grain locally. It is wheat that gulped $4bn annually as at 2012/13 on importation until the intervention of ATA with High Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF).

In 2012, we had 80,000MT of wheat, but national production has increased to about 150,000MT of wheat.
Locating the market

Our target is to reduce wheat importation by 50 per cent come 2017. How? Through the ATA, we have a buyback programme for all the wheat produced by farmers. It was done in 2013, also in 2014 and there is plan to do that for 2015.

However, this intervention cannot be sustained. Therefore, we are having stakeholders meetings and workshops with flour millers and they are ready to take up wheat produced locally. We are partners with a miller in Kano, Owo and recently, Honeywell is doing pilot test with our local wheat. On our own, the institute has done its own milling and baking test of the wheat.

We also took samples to FIIRO to validate the end use value of our produce and the result was positive as well. This is to confirm that Nigerian wheat is very good, if not better than imported one.

Special varieties
We do not have winter wheat in Nigeria, but we have hard wheat. The wheat we are cultivating is not indigenous wheat; it is the exotic varieties. Our materials come from ICARDA, and CIMMYT through germplasm exchange. We evaluated these materials and they were bred for tropical climate, it is heat-tolerant.

Wheat is a winter crop grown only during the cold season for maximum yield. But as a result of research, breeders have given us varieties that are tolerant of higher temperatures. That is why we are growing wheat in Nigeria.

Generally, there are two types of wheat, the bread wheat used for bread making and the durum wheat used for noodles, biscuit, confectionery, it has lower gluten, a kind of protein. The potential is there, but there should be the political will, which government has shown through the ATA.

Policy summersault can be counterproductive; we don’t need it. The nation has the real potential to grow wheat.

Place of private sector in production
There should be government intervention in agriculture. There is usually a short, medium and long term plan, so Nigeria cannot withdraw at this stage. Australia, US, India produce millions in tonnage of wheat and store them in silos for years, sometimes above 15 years and they still give subsidy to their farmers.

Nigeria should bring in investors as government plays its own part. Investors need to be stable economically before government withdraws, but for now let government drive the ATA at least for the next five years. Then we can review the project to know whether to re-plan and move forward or otherwise.

Under the ATA, GES was introduced and initially, there were people who doubted its workability. But now, it has been achieved as farmers come after phone contact to collect fertilizer, seed and other inputs.

Mallam Ibrahim Argungu, president of wheat farmers in Kebbi State produced 200 bags of wheat recently and the state government bought all of them and that of other wheat farmers at N20,000 per bag. Due to the interest generated, we rolled out 11,500 bags of seed to Kebbi State farmers. There were two varieties released that is, Atilla Gan Attila and Norman Borlaug.

Production Cost
Our Agricultural Economics department in the institute did some work to find out that per hectare, a farmer makes about N250,000 profit at an average of four tons per hectare yield (about 60-68 per cent profit). Although it is observed, too, that the price of wheat in the market fluctuates.

Nutritional impact of wheat
It has a lot of nutrients and even good for diabetic patients as recommended by doctors, especially whole wheat.

Millers prefer importing wheat because it is cheaper – N8000 per bag, while local one is between N13,000-15,000 per bag. However, the imported wheat has lost almost all the nutrients having been stored for years, this cannot be compared with our local fresh grain that has all nutrients intact.

Banning wheat import and local production
There is a trade liberalisation treaty and there cannot be the banning of wheat. There should be gestation period. The world is competitive and Nigeria should compete; we have what it takes to compete and Nigeria’s wheat is as good if not better than imported wheat

Nutritionally, there is no way to compare wheat that has been stored for many years to local, freshly grown wheat. Remember, we are talking about nutrition and food security; food has to contain all the nutrients in their right strength. That is why the people in the village, despite their poverty, look strong and healthy – the same go for the old ones who are still working in farms.

We are not advocates of banning wheat, but in a few years time, even our millers will realise that our locally grown wheat is better and will key into it.

Why the cost of local wheat is higher now is a matter of economics – demand and supply. By the time we are able to produce enough wheat in the country, the price will come down.

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