Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, has failed to make a dent in its wheat imports as its production of the grain remains low despite efforts to ramp it up.
From 2015 to 2022, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari budgeted N12.9 billion for training, promotion, and development of the wheat value chain, according to budget allocation data from the Budget Office of the Federation.
The inability of the country to boost its wheat production over the years and reduce its imports is putting more pressure on its foreign reserves, even it is losing jobs that would have been created if it had a thriving wheat industry.
“The question about Nigeria’s wheat importation is a political one – and an international issue,” Musa Shehu, national president of the Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria, said. “There’s an agreement between Nigeria and some other international countries, especially the US, that if we are going to sell oil to them, they’re going to sell wheat to us. I doubt that agreement has been reviewed.”
Shehu believes that unless the government does the same thing it did with rice – declare a state of emergency on wheat importation, the country may never be able to record an appreciable increase in its wheat production.
A 2021 report on wheat production in Nigeria by the National Bureau of Statistics, which conducted a survey that covered the 2020/2021 farming season across 13 states, said wheat production in Nigeria was 36,943.80 tonnes, a decrease of 23 percent from 60,000 tonnes as captured in the Agriculture Promotion Policy’s strategy document of 2016.
In that same year (2016), demand was put at 4.7 million tonnes. But seven years later, while demand has largely grown, production has declined.
Nigeria imported wheat worth N1.3 trillion in 2021, up 71 percent from N756.9 billion in 2020, while wheat imports in 2020 rose by 89.1 percent from N400.3 billion in 2019.
In 2018, imports stood at N375.1 billion, and in the first three quarters of 2022, N753.6 billion worth of wheat was imported, according to official data.
The production of the grain is still limited by lingering issues, which include poor irrigation facilities, inconsistent supply of high-yielding varieties, inadequate modern agronomic practices, low mechanised farming among smallholder farmers, inadequate quality seeds, and storage facilities among others, according to experts.
Oluwasina Olabanji, a former executive director of Lake Chad Research Institute, said in an interview with BusinessDay that the government has come up with several interventions for the transformation of the agricultural sector, upon realising the need to diversify its economy after years of neglect.
“Of these interventions, there were specific projects for rice, wheat, and maize. Buhari launched the CBN-Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) in Kebbi State in 2015 and the country has started increasing its production of the grain,” he said.
However, data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) show that Nigeria still has one of the lowest yields per hectare of grain among its African peers.
The country’s wheat average yield per hectare is 1.13 metric tonnes (MT), compared to Egypt’s 6.45MT, South Africa’s 4.31MT and Ethiopia’s 2.67MT, according to FAO 2021 data – an indication that the interventions in the wheat value chain are yet to yield results.
Olabanji said with the CBN-ABP, national wheat production and productivity increased from 71,000 MT in 2018 to about 150,000 MT in 2022, consequently reducing wheat importation.