Re-igniting the Nigerian Wheat Story

By Wole Fatunbi (PhD)[1]

Nigeria is full of stories that generate excuses not to develop our potential into wealth. I remember the wheat story in Nigeria dating back to the Second Republic (1979 -1983) when Alhaji Shehu Shagari was the president of Nigeria. The country started wheat production on the same land currently being used for off-season vegetables; this effort grew until millers refused to buy locally grown wheat and insisted on importing it because of the price and quality.

The day’s government then abruptly opened the gate for importation and drenched the Nigerian wheat farmers into poverty, spending a considerable percentage of our GDP on wheat importation.

Fast-forward the story to the era of Dr. Akin Adesina, Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria (2011–2015), when the Africa Development Bank-backed the Support to Agricultural Research Development for the strategic crop (SARD-SC), with wheat as one of the crops supported for Nigeria. The minister gave his good backing to the project and supported the production of seeds of improved wheat varieties. Kudos to the great scientists from ICARDA and their unwavering support of the Lake Chad Research Institute to test many varieties with the potential for higher yields.

I recall my participation and the support of my organization, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), to provide training on establishing an agricultural innovation platform for wheat in several countries, including Nigeria. The efforts grew with success but hit a snag when the millers came up again with the same reason given in 1983 not to stop the importation of wheat to the country. At that time, Nigeria spent about four billion US dollars importing wheat annually, which translates to two billion Naira per day based on the exchange rate of N360 to $1. Popular data indicates the cost of importing wheat in 2021 amounted to N1.29 trillion.  All research efforts and evidence were suppressed, possibly due to issues of trade balance with countries buying our oil and selling wheat to us. Nigeria lost the opportunity to push through its wheat revolution and opted for the importation of poverty for the farmers; we position ourselves as vulnerable people to food shocks around the globe. The vigor around the wheat revolution in Nigeria has since reduced, although the AfDB came around again through the support of the wheat compact in its TAAT project in Nigeria. `

Now that wheat has become the golden food of our time due to the Russia and Ukraine wars, it presents a much-needed opportunity for Nigeria to optimize its wheat game and increase local production to reduce the import bill. The logic is clear; the exporting countries may stop selling wheat to African countries due to a shortage in supply already. The price of wheat has gone up to $430 per ton and will most likely increase due to the associated increase in fertilizer costs. It is glaringly obvious that the domestic price of wheat-based foods will hit an all-time high in Nigeria.

Bread is everyone’s food in Nigeria; if this becomes unaffordable, the pressure will divert to other commodities, and its effect on food inflation will be very harmful. The excuse of the millers about the wheat produced in Nigeria has been debunked by research, save for the need to establish the aggregators and possibly provide destoning facilities, to produce clean grains for flour production.

Re-igniting the Nigerian Wheat Story

A functional system needs to create a shock-absorbing facility for its food and nutritional security; it should have a stability mechanism, to prevent its food system from falling due to every external issue. The resolve of the current government to eradicate the importation of wheat by 2023, as a legacy of the Buhari government is laudable; it does not only bring smiles to our faces but gives a note of hope for Nigeria’s food and nutritional security.

This represents an unprecedented political will and must be followed by concrete action.

The Nigerian government must rise to the occasion and invest heavily in our wheat production. Stakeholder consultation will be the first step toward a long-term change, followed by sound investments, starting from the current production domain and spreading gradually to other regions, where wheat can be grown profitably.

It is known that the government system is never quick due to lengthy processes, red-tapes, and bureaucracy; nonetheless, government support is essential to have successful interventions. To catch the moment and establish a pathway for gains, the farmers’ association, especially the wheat growers’ group, needs to wake up the sleeping wheat innovation platforms for action, to deliver the Nigeria wheat revolution.

About the Writer

[1] Wole Fatunbi (PhD) is a front-line farming systems agronomist. He currently works as the Senior Technical Cluster Leader and the Innovation systems specialist with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Accra, Ghana.

One Comment

  1. July 4, 2022 at 11:06 am

    Well said Sir. The impact of self- reliance on Wheat and other foods/items can never be repudiated.
    Some have begun while many others seek the opportunity to join the Wheat farming business. There is need for more sensitisation prior to seminars and for location based town hall meetings.

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