A peep into Nigeria’s flour millers Wheat Development Programme

Since the Russia-Ukraine war started, prices of wheat – a key staple on the breakfast table have climbed to unprecedented heights as the crisis disrupts global food supplies.

Russia and Ukraine account for about 30percent of global wheat exports, the trade hiccoughs are driving up the global wheat price. The Chicago wheat prices, a global benchmark for pricing the all-important crop, have shot up by 40percent since the escalation of hostilities between the neighbouring countries.

As it stands, the price increase will continue to push the global food inflation further with impacts on global food security. Africa, which imports 80 percent of the total wheat shipped globally, faces an austere inflationary outlook as long as the conflict persists in Eastern Europe.

“The conflict in Ukraine could limit the world’s supply of staple crops like wheat, maize, and sunflower oil, resulting in the skyrocketing of food prices and hunger,” said Gilbert Houngbo, the president of IFAD in a statement.

He stated that the crisis could jeopardise global food security and heighten geopolitical tensions.

“Forty percent of wheat and corn exports from Ukraine go to the Middle East and Africa, which are already grappling with hunger issues, and where further food shortages or price increases could stoke social unrest,” he said.

“The continuation of this conflict, already a tragedy for those directly involved, will be catastrophic for the entire world, and particularly those that are already struggling to feed their families.”

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), food consumption expenses account for 40percent of the total consumer spending in sub-Saharan Africa, the ongoing commodity price rally is poised to have dire effects on consumers’ wallets.

Nigeria, which purchases 27 percent and 3 percent of her total wheat exports from Russia and Ukraine, respectively, to bridge the wide gap in local production and meet the growing demand for wheat-derivative foods, is highly vulnerable to disruptions in the key wheat-producing countries.

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The current situation and the ripple effect on the global wheat supply, therefore, emphasizes how critical it is for Nigeria to not only expedite action but rally all possible efforts and interventions geared at raising the production level of the local wheat value chain. And more importantly, to arrest the overt exposure to external shocks in the global food supply market.

The Flour Milling Association of Nigeria (FMAN), which comprises the top flour milling firms operating in the country, has been consistently rising to meet the various local wheat value chain challenges and drive the nation towards the attainment of wheat production self-sufficiently.

Under its flagship Wheat Development Programme (WDP) initiative, the milling association channels around N500 million annually into the wheat value chain through various backward integration programmes.

Two of the focal points of the FMAN WDP initiative in recent times are the development and engagement of the national agriculture research systems and the trial of high-yielding wheat seed varieties to improve the level of domestic wheat output.

This strategic value chain development focus has necessitated the establishment of a research farm centre in Ringim LGA, Jigawa State in 2021 in collaboration with the Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI). The farm is sited on 10-hectare farmland. While fifteen local governments from Jigawa, Kano, and Kebbi were selected to benefit from the research farm project, Jigawa was chosen as the starting point.

The location of the research farm in Jigawa State as a starting point for the FMAN research project can be considered truly strategic to the wheat production self-sufficiency agenda in Nigeria. Jigawa has a strong farming cluster that cultivates around 40,000 metric tons of wheat yearly. The state and Kano rank as the top producers of wheat in the country.

Moreover, the collaboration with the LCRI in establishing the research farm would ensure the rollout of sufficient knowledge banks (scientists, research methodology, and tools) that would help maximize the investment and utilize the certified seed varieties being introduced into the country by FMAN.

Hence, with the support of the LCRI, new seed varieties from Mexico and Sudan are being introduced to the local farms. As well a set of highly adaptable seeds varieties will be trialed and released to smallholder farmers as input.

In terms of educating the farmers on trendy farming practices, FMAN and the local research institute have been able to train the local smallholder farmers on improved agronomic practices. As of the first half of 2021, 5,000 farmers have received farming training while 700 farmers were put through an intensive out-grower programme to help improve their harvest yields.

Generally, the association’s direct value chain investment focus continues to impact the scope of research work undertaken by the local agriculture research institutes.

Location yield trials, distribution of germplasm to the local research systems from the international nurseries, and the empowerment of smallholder farmers are vital to a wheat development programme.

This well-coordinated approach has yielded impressive results in countries that share almost similar topographic and climatic conditions with the country.

The result of a research work carried out in 2018 in the Senegal River Basin by a team of top wheat breeders comprising Amadou Sall, Filippo Bassi, and Madiama Cisse, amongst others, attests to the fact that it is possible to achieve improved harvests by focusing on research.

“We have presented a handful of new potential durum wheat cultivars that can withstand the high temperatures of West African drylands, and whose harvests yield more than 3-ton ha−1 (3 tons per hectare) of grain (depending on soil type and temperatures), and with a fast cycle of about 3 months between planting and harvest,” the research team said.

“This new crop for the Senegal River Basin, if properly supported, has the potential to replace the fallow period between rice seasons with a productive durum wheat crop,” the team remarked.

They explained that the potential yield from their work “could be converted into a significant new business worth over €180 million per year to fight poverty.”

The Senegalese wheat value chain has benefited immensely from the strategic focus on such research. It is reported that the country’s annual wheat harvest jumped from 573,435 tons to 900,000 tons in five years, from 2015 to 2020.

Nigeria should attain such a productivity level in the next few years considering FMAN’s robust commitment to research and capacity building to uncover new value in the wheat value chain.

The association, through its WDP investments, has played a cushioning role, so far, by largely mitigating the effects of COVID-19 on the local harvests since 2020. With sustained investments in the WDP initiative, the years ahead look promising.

Sarah Huber, the former head of FMAN operations, gave the assurance. She said, last year, that the body would explore more partnership opportunities with organizations across the value chain to improve smallholder farmers’ yields.

“This would help scale the provisions of high-quality seeds, expand extension services, and improve access to irrigation for farmers,” she said.

The various efforts of FMAN and its members are geared towards engendering a robust local wheat production level. Barring any disruptive events in the coming years, the overall investment in the wheat value chain will expectedly generate impressive harvests results.