• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

Wheat production drops despite FG’s funding, surging demand

$1.5bn AfDB fund to improve Nigeria’s wheat production

Wheat production in Nigeria fell by more than 38 percent in five years despite the surging demand for the commodity in Africa’s most populous country and the billions of naira spent by the federal government to boost output.

Nigeria produced 36,943 metric tons of wheat last year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on wheat production. This figure is 38.4 per cent lower than the 60,000MT recorded in 2016, data from the Ministry of Agriculture show.

Insecurity, lack of close supervision, corruption, and farmers’ preference for rice cultivation have been identified as major issues limiting the country from ramping up local production of the grain, thus accelerating wheat imports amid dollar shortages.

“Our decline in production is as a result of insecurity. Borno State used to be the largest grower of wheat in the country with about 40 percent owing to its high soil fertility but today, it is now ranked 12th among key producing states,” says Oluwasina Olabanji, a former executive director at Lake Chad Research Institute.

“Marte local government, which grows wheat on a large scale before, is now a no-go area because of insecurity. This has greatly affected our production level,” Olabanji added.

According to him, thousands of hectares used for wheat cultivation are now abandoned as hundreds of farmers cultivating wheat in Borno have abandoned their farmlands and fled to other regions for safety while some took residency at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp.

Stakeholders added that corruption and lack of close supervision of interventions funds for wheat development had also hampered production.

Africa’s biggest economy has spent over N10.35 billion on wheat development in five years, according to data from the budgetary allocation to the agricultural ministry.

BusinessDay checks on wheat budget between 2017 and 2021 show that there was a decline in the budgetary allocation for wheat development.

A total of N4.5 billion was budgeted for wheat development in 2017, N3.52 billion in 2018 and N1.6 billion in 2019. In 2020 and 2021, N589.3 million and N658.7 million respectively were allocated for wheat development.

“When the Central Bank of Nigeria started the wheat development initiative in 2018, it was poorly managed, and they had to stop it,” said Olabanji.

Mutairu Mamudu, a wheat farmer in Jigawa State, said most of the funds for wheat development allocated by the federal government did not get to the farmers.

He said, “Most of that money was diverted into personal pockets, and that is why production was not increasing as farmers were not getting the support they needed.

“I have been cultivating wheat since 2015 but I never got any input from the government until last year and this year. So, what happened to all the previous money for intervention in wheat production?”

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Nigeria spent N747.5 billion importing wheat in 2020, while N898.2 billion was spent from January to September last year, according to data from the NBS.

Another obstacle to government efforts at reducing importation is the attractive markets of wheat in the Sahel region, experts said.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Nigerian government requires millers to purchase local wheat at a fixed price of $400 per ton. However, farmers of the Wheat Association of Nigeria (WFAN) prefer to sell their limited output to more attractive markets in Sahel countries like Niger, Chad, Mali, and Burkina Faso as well as to NGOs.

However, experts said with the new initiative by the apex bank and commitment shown by flour millers, production of the grain could hit 400,000 metric tons next year.

“We might have seen a bit of decline in production but by 2023, we would have increased growth because of the numbers of wheat currently cultivated and new programmes introduced by the CBN and the support of AfDB,” said Ayodeji Balogun, chief executive officer at AFEX.

“Farmers have cultivated over 100,000 hectares of wheat under the CBN’s programme and it is expected to produce close to 400,000MT of wheat,” he added.

Olabanji said the intervention programmes and commitment from flour millers must be sustained within the next five years to surpass the 400,000MT mark.