Despite the insecurity insurgency in northern Nigeria, the Federal Government has reiterated its resolve to have a wheat bumper harvest by 2015, thereby halving imports through local production.
This follows the discovery of two improved varieties of wheat expected to position Nigeria well in local wheat production, sufficient to reduce national wheat import by half in 2015.
Special Assistant on Media & Strategy to Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye disclosed this to NaijaAgroNet, quoting the executive director, Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI), Dr. Oluwasina Gbenga Olabanji, as saying in Abuja, while presenting 100 per cent Nigerian wheat bread to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina in his office.
Dr. Olabanji said these varieties, due to be released in 2014 are capable of producing an "average yield of 5 to 6 tons per hectare” stressing that the varieties, named Norman Borlaug and Reyne 28, are expected to position Nigeria to produce what it requires as it expands its land holdings allocated to wheat production, and would boost the economy of the north.
The reality of the improved varieties, Dr. Olabanji noted, “was achieved through collaboration with CIMMYT in Mexico and ICARDA in Tunisia.”
The director referred to the earlier work done on wheat in Nigeria, saying that, “for wheat research in LRCI, we have done a lot of work on the genetic improvement of wheat in Nigeria. As at 1976, the average yield was 1.2 tons per hectare. But, with the launching of the wheat transformation agenda by the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of the federal government of Nigeria, we have been able to develop some improved varieties that can give us an average yield of 5 to 6 tons per hectare.”
The efforts will ensure that, by 2015, the quantity of wheat imported into Nigeria is reduced by half. This is to be achieved through aggressive production in 10 states of the north as disclosed this week during the official presentation of Abuja. Dr. Olabanji also projected that, “between now and 2015, we should be able to produce half of our demand in this country.”
He observed that “our demand for wheat is 3.7 metric tons, expressing optimism that, “by 2015, we should be able to achieve 50 per cent of this national demand. And that will reduce the cost of importation by 50 per cent. Presently, Nigeria is spending N635 billion every year for wheat importation.”
As part of the effort toward achieving the laudable goal, the executive director talked about strategies to harness the comparative advantage for wheat production in the north. “We have the potentials to produce our own wheat. We have 600,000 hectares of land in this country that is suitable for wheat production, out of which only 10 per cent of land this area is utilised for wheat production. But, within this agricultural transformation agenda, we have proposed, for 2013 to 2014, to cultivate 150,000 hectares of land in the wheat-growing areas. These are 10 states in the northern parts of the country.”
On the varieties that would do well in Nigeria, he said, “we have rain-fed wheat in Nigeria. And this rain-fed wheat is cultivated in Nigerian highlands. These Nigerian highlands are in Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State, Jos in Plateau State, and Obudu in Cross River State. These are potential areas for rain-fed wheat production. We have about 80,000 hectares area of land in these areas that are suitable for rain-fed wheat production.”
Dr. Olabanji explained that the work on wheat goes beyond mere field cultivation. “With ATA, we emphasise value chain, not just producing the wheat. We have gone into processing our Nigerian wheat into flour. We also have recipes that are made from this wheat flour, like the bread. We have 100 per cent Nigerian made bread. Our wheat flour is comparable, if not superior, to imported flour that we are clamouring for in Nigeria.”
Earlier, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development commended the efforts of Dr. Olabanji and his institute, LCRI, pointing out that LCRI is the first among other agricultural research institutes to bring up products of research to his office. “What Dr. Olabanji has just shown was that Nigeria’s comparative advantage is not to be in consumption but that we can produce even the things we are importing,” the minister stated. To Dr. Olabanji, he said: “We will hold you up as an example for all the others, about how our agencies should work and help Mr. President.”
Expressing the hope that, Nigeria will soon be self-sufficient in wheat production, Dr. Adesina said, “all the way in the north; Borno, Yobe, Katsina, Kano, Zamfara, Sokoto states: in all those areas, we can produce wheat.” He lamented, however, that “we have not been doing that well.” Rather, he noted, “we spend N635million annually in importing wheat.”
Excited, the minister expressed the belief that, “with all the wheat value chain that we have, we will be able, over a four-year period. …Just imagine what the northern states will look like. We did dry season rice in 10 states in the north. You saw what happened. You can imagine if wheat expansion of those varieties under those mechanised conditions happened all over the place.”
Dr. Adesina promised to support, the research institute and wheat transformation agenda.
He said “Nigeria will not be a consumption centre. Nigeria must be self-sufficient in producing what we actually eat, so that we can reduce our dependency on others,” adding that “any nation that does not free itself from food import is a danger to its own very self.”
The minister observed that “the quality of our wheat in terms of consumer acceptance is excellent,” but sympathized that “our local research institutes are not well funded.” He said, “with the little amount that they have, (you can) imagine what they have done.”
He enthused that “these are the moments that make me enormously very happy and more confident that our future as a country in agriculture is very bright.”