Bridging Nigeria’s maize supply shortfall

Africa’s most populous country is currently the largest maize producer in Africa and its export capacity for the grain is still low as the country does not grow enough to meet local demand. There is also a ban by the Nigerian government on the importation of maize. However, informal trade exchanges between Nigeria and Sahel countries occur routinely.

Maize is the leading cereal grown in Nigeria and it provides millions of jobs for the people, as it can be cultivated in all states of the country. It serves as a key input in many manufacturing companies and the poultry industry. About 60 percent of Nigeria’s maize is used for the production of poultry feed, 25 percent is used up by the food and beverage industry, and the remaining is consumed by households, according to industry experts.

Maize is the most important food crop in Sub- Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation. Globally, maize is broadly classified into two – yellow maize and white maize.

While yellow maize is by far the most popular variety of maize in the global market because of its use for animal feed and ethanol production, white maize on the other hand is grown predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, and is more commonly consumed as food.

Currently, in Nigeria, the bulk of the grain produced is under the rain-fed system. The planting season starts in mid-March through mid-June yearly – March/April in the south and May/June in the north. The crop matures within three to four months after planting.

Despite its short gestation period, there has been a critical imbalance in the demand and supply of maize in Nigeria for several years now, as the production of the crop is not growing as fast as the country’s population.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) had in 2017 estimated the value of Nigeria’s maize industry at $6 billion (N2.5trillion). But, yield per hectare has remained low and production has failed to match population growth over the years despite being the second largest grower of the crop in Africa and 13th globally.

In 2020, Nigeria churned out 12 million metric tons of maize, according to the FAO’s most recent data. Its agricultural ministry in 2016 put the country’s demand for the grain at 15 million, a figure that has increased now owing to the rising demand for the grain.

Going by the figure, Nigeria has a supply-demand gap of about 4 million tons per annum. Agro-allied manufacturers who use maize and its by-products as key inputs are increasingly sourcing locally as foreign exchange hiccups continue to deal blows on their capacity to import the grain.

The shortfall in supply has caused prices of maize to reach an all-time high of N250,000 and N270,000 per ton, posing a major threat to poultry, food and beverage industries, and the country’s food security.

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Poultry farmers who spend 70percent of their production costs have been worst hit by the sudden and speedy rise in maize prices.

The bulk of the country’s maize production is concentrated in Kaduna, Borno, Niger, Plateau, Katsina, Gombe, Bauchi, Kogi, Oyo, and Taraba states. These top ten maize-producing states account for nearly two-thirds of maize produced in the country.

Changing the narrative

Data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) shows that Nigeria records the least yield per hectare among its peers.

For maize – which is the most consumed grain on the continent, Nigeria’s yield per hectare is 1.6MT on average despite being the largest grower of the crop while South Africa’s average yield is 6MT per hectare.

Smallholder farmers in Africa’s most populous country have limited access to improved maize seeds. Lack of technology and poor farm practices have made yield per hectare for the crop remain perpetually low, thus, leading to high production costs and making the sector unattractive to the younger population.

Closing the maize supply-demand gap in Africa’s biggest economy requires concerted efforts by players across the value chain.

At the core of this effort is the need to accelerate awareness and widespread use of improved, disease-resistant maize seed varieties that can resist fall armyworm infestation and tackle weed management, thereby boosting yield per hectare.

Bayer Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of Bayer AG Germany– a leader in crop science, is supporting Africa’s most populous country to improve its food security by helping smallholder farmers boost their productivity through its annual Nigeria Maize Conference since 2018.

“Since the inception of the Nigeria Maize Conference in 2018 it has become a form of convergence for stakeholders in the maize industry and the program has brought insight on how to develop the industry in the country,” said Temitope Banjo, country sales manager, Bayer Nigeria Limited during the annual Maize conference.

Recently, the fourth edition themed ‘Much More Maize 2.0’ coming on the heels of the 2021 edition, farmers and stakeholders at the conference were exposed to sustainable farming practices that will help them increase their maize harvest, boost the country’s output, and reaffirm Bayer’s commitment to Nigeria’s food security drive.

“What we do at Bayer is to chat out ways on how to keep the business profitable. Our objective is to improve people’s lives by concentrating on key areas to boost maize productivity,” he said.

He said the country has made significant progress in maize production since the conference kick-started and this year’s edition will foster more impact.

“Determining a meaningful and strategic path to the market and communicating Bayer’s innovation to the maize subsector.”

According to him, Nigeria is now Africa’s largest maize producer followed by South Africa and Egypt, adding that the country’s production increased from 12.8 million metric tons in 2020 to 13.94 million metric tons in 2021.

He added that there is still room for improvement to close the demand gap and meet the domestic and industrial needs of the country.

Abubakar Bello, president of Maize Association of Nigeria, represented by Sunday Bamidele, in his welcome address, said Bayer is a reliable and dependable partner of the association.

He said the relationship between the Maize Association of Nigeria and Bayer has boosted maize production in the country as the organization continues to train farmers on good agronomy practices which he said has helped boost local production.

“The organization usually organizes pre-season training to take farmers on fresher courses and also introduce new technology. All this has been impacting productivity and it has helped us battle pests and weeds,” he said.

Industry sources who also spoke to BusinessDay, say smallholder farmers must begin to grow maize all year round using irrigation to boost production and meet the ever-growing demand while also increasing the adoption of hybrid maize and carrying out effective weed management control.

Professor Friday Ekeleme from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture said in a presentation that Lagon® – a new crop protection product developed by Bayer Nigeria has brought succor to maize farmers in weed management.

According to him, weeds have remained a major threat to increased maize productivity in Nigeria and the entire African continent, saying the continent’s grain yields remain below the global average.

He said the product has been tested on several trials and demos across Nigeria and it is rated among the top best pre-emergence herbicides for control of both types of grass and broad-leaf weeds in maize.

Ekeleme added maize weed management is a welcome development and called for more such training across the country, saying such regular training would build capacities and help in improving farmers’ knowledge of good farming practices such as record keeping, weed management, and safe use of herbicides.

Similarly, Ayodele Kayode, market development agronomist, Bayer Nigeria Limited in a presentation took the participants through the Value Proposition of Belt Experts against Fall Army Worm.