Unacceptable wheat importation

The recent appeal by President Muhammadu Buhari to Nigerian wheat farmers to embrace wheat farming as a way of stopping importation of the commodity is a welcome step in the right direction. Nigeria spends about $2.2bn to meet local demand of the products annually.

President Buhari made the appeal at the flag-off of the first-ever rain-fed commercial wheat cultivation at the Wheat Seed Multiplication Farm in Kwall, Bassa Local Government Area of Plateau state.

He lamented that wheat millers had had to resort to importation of the commodity to meet the huge demand for wheat by-products in the country.

Represented at the occasion by the Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau state, President Buhari, noted that agricultural sector was one of the critical non-oil sectors which had made significant contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), accounting for between 22.35 and 23.78 per cent contribution to the overall GDP in the first and second quarters of 2021, respectively.

He said a key focus of his administration had been the deployment of modern technology to ensure that agriculture thrived in Nigeria to significantly grow the economy and achieve maximum welfare to the citizens by guaranteeing food and energy security.

It is, however, interesting to note that in 2015, Nigeria expended a whopping sum of $6bn annually on wheat importation for its domestic consumption. The implication of the practice was that Nigeria ranked among the leading importers of the commodity in the world with a record high single importation at the time. For instance, in the second quarter of 2014 alone, Nigeria imported 400,000 metric tonnes of wheat in a single shipment, signalling the era of massive importation of wheat into the nation. A fleet of 12 ships was involved in the exercise. Another consignment of 400,000 tonnes of wheat also berthed at the Apapa Ports Bulk Terminal before the end of the year, precisely in October of 2014.

The high volume of imported wheat is the fallout of policy somersault that has become the hallmark of the last administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Ironically, the federal government in line with its transformation of the agriculture sector agenda had often times reiterated its determination to reduce the nation’s dependence on imported wheat through boosting of local production. However, despite the introduction of 15 per cent levy on wheat imports, which increased the duty from five to 20 per cent, the policy did nothing to stem wheat imports owing to the inability of local wheat farmers to meet the shortfall of the commodity in the country.

Nigeria is one of the world’s largest markets for the US wheat exports. According to the United States Department of Agriculture,in 2013, the US wheat sales to Nigeria were valued at nearly $985m. Overall, the US export of agricultural products to Nigeria was worth $1.1bn in 2013. Even though the amount spent on importation had plummeted from $6bn to $2.2bn over a period of six years, given the prevailing economic situation in the country, it is very obvious that the current trend of wheat importation is still unsustainable.

It is noteworthy that Iran, which committed less than two per cent of its land mass to agriculture, produces about 10m metric tonnes of wheat annually. But Nigeria, with over 50 per cent land mass committed to agriculture, could only produce a little above 100,000 metric tonnes yearly.

Something must be fundamentally wrong in the sector and it needs to be fixed. As a way forward, we advocate the promotion of community seed production aimed at increasing wheat cultivation in Nigeria. As a way of reducing the overdependence on importation of the commodity, efforts were madein the past to increase the nation’s wheat production by 95 per cent through technology interventions across the value chain with improved varieties of seeds, value addition and yield enhancing management practices. Had that sustained, it would have stimulated 30 per cent yield increase and 70 per cent income for the nation’s 55,000 wheat farmers by now.

We urge the federal government revisit the policy of distribution of improved wheat seeds to farmers which commenced in 2014 even though the move was seen by many analysts as politically driven because of the timing ahead of the 2015 general elections. During the exercise, about 7,500 improved wheat seeds were claimed to have been distributed which could translate to a 50 per cent reduction of importation of the product in the long run.

Subsidising the price of fertiliser and providing water pumps, sprayers and threshing machines to wheat farmers at heavily reduced costs will also go a long way in achieving the objective of less dependence on importation.

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