By Chinyere Anyanwu, [email protected]
Wheat, a major input in the production of several food staples in the country, is currently in short supply locally. Durum wheat, the variety that is in high demand, is milled for the production of bread, semolina, pasta, noodles, biscuits, among other flour-based foods, that are highly consumed meals in Nigeria.
The scarcity of the product has worsened since the outbreak of Ukraine -Russian in February this year.
As at the last quarter of 2021 for instance, Nigeria had spent N1.29 trillion on wheat importation, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Similarly statistics from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) however reveal that Nigeria produces only one per cent of its annual wheat demand, about 60,000 metric tonnes, while its yearly demand stands at between 4.5 million and 5 million tonnes, leaving a huge deficit yearly in demand which is filled through importation from countries like Russia, US, Canada and Australia.
The agency also projects that the country’s wheat demand could reach 6.5 million metric tonnes by the end of this year.
The need to bridge the wheat demand gap swells Nigeria’s food import bill by a huge percentage.
Available data indicate that Nigeria imported an estimated $1.48 billion worth of wheat in 2019 alone.
By 2020, the country’s wheat import bill rose to $2.6 billion, while in 2021, it ballooned to N1.29 trillion thus making it one of the largest wheat importers in the world.
But just recently food security advocates have warned that Nigeria’s dependence on imported wheat for much of its food varieties may pose tougher challenges for the citizens with the rising cost of the product, which translates to skyrocketing prices of flour-based food items.
The worst hit is bread, a major staple on many households breakfast tables. In the last few months, the price of bread has gone out of the reach of average households to the extent that many are now looking for other alternatives just to escape the galloping price of the product.
Today a loaf of bread that sold for N500 in 2021 rose to N700 in March 2022 and is now selling for N900.
Millers who spoke to Daily Sun attributed the rising cost of flour to the shortage of wheat arising from the Russia/Ukraine war, which imposed export restriction on grains and other staple good.
The two countries are the major wheat suppliers to Nigeria.
But users of flour, however, insist that the war between Russia and Ukraine was not to blame as much for the price increment since according to them, millers have been in the habit of indiscriminately increasing cost of flour even before the war broke out.
They argue that millers in other wheat importing countries like Ghana are not increasing the price of flour the way those in Nigeria are doing even though they buy from the same market and at the same price.
Operators in baking and confectionary business lamented the adverse effect of the unregulated hike in the price of flour on their operations, with many of them shutting down their businesses and swelling the unemployment market. They lamented that in the last one month, the price of flour has been raised three times and would likely increase again in the near future.
They however, argue that Nigeria does not need to depend so heavily on importation to meet its wheat demand as it has the capacity to become self-sufficient in the grain if the right measures are implemented.
Apart from government and private sector’s seeming lack of interest in tackling the wheat import challenge headlong, other issues, including insecurity, unavailability of improved high yielding seedlings and inputs, have made the quest for self-sufficiency in wheat appear as an Herculean task.
Efforts by government and some private sector players, including Olam and Flour Mills of Nigeria (FMN), in recent times, to end importation of wheat in the near future are yet to yield the desired result.
For instance, the Federal Government in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Lake Chad Research Institute, recently embarked on a wheat growing project tagged Brown Revolution aimed at bridging the demand-supply gap. Olam and FMN have also embarked on wheat growing projects where they have engaged local wheat farmers for training and empowerment to cultivate the grain on a large scale.
Regrettably these initiatives are yet to make the expected impact in crashing Nigerian wheat import bill.
But stakeholders in the wheat value chain are quite optimistic that Nigeria has the capacity to reduce import bill to the barest minimum if not eliminate completely.
National Leader, Progressive Bakers Association of Nigeria (PBAN), Prince Jacob Adejonrin, told Daily Sun he is upbeat that the country can be self-sufficient in wheat.
Reacting to the rising price of bread, which he attributed to the high cost of flour, Adejonrin said, “we can’t be depending perpetually on other countries for wheat. We can be self-sufficient in the grain, because Nigeria has the landmass, farmers and other amenities to grow wheat in the country.
Farmers should be given loans and encouraged by the Federal Government to cultivate wheat. Bank of Industry (BoI) can invite all the farmers and anyone who wants to go into wheat farming should be mobilised to go and grow wheat.”
He stated that, “millers should be encouraged too to plant wheat. We have Flour Mills of Nigeria, Olam, and Diamond Flour; these are the three major ones now, others have closed down. Let them acquire land and plant wheat. If they don’t have money, let them go to BoI and borrow money and grow wheat.
He added that wheat farmers should be “empowered to embark on mechanised farming. Make available high yielding seedlings, fertilisers and other inputs to them.”
Also speaking on the wheat challenge, a Manager at Richo Bakery, Alexander Abia, an Agricultural Engineering graduate, says Nigeria is well able to erase the huge annual wheat import bill. Abia who noted that though wheat thrives better in temperate regions like Ukraine, Russia, USA, believes that with technology, there is possibility of growing it commercially here in Nigeria. He said, “it’s all about the government and some private sector players who have the capacity coming to invest in that field. Nigeria has all it takes to be self-sufficient in wheat.”
He emphasised the “need to go into research and see how we can maximise what we have for wheat growing. Despite the climatic factor, I know nothing is impossible. We have the skill, the labour, the landmass and knowledgable people who can explore this.”