Olam Webinar Series 2: Rethinking Wheat Farming in Nigeria through Seeds Research and Partnerships


Friday, January 21, 2022 / 02:00 PM / by Proshare Business / Header Image Credit: Olam


According to the US Department of Agriculture's data, Nigeria's wheat production in 2021 was estimated at 60 thousand metric tonnes, while total annual consumption demand stood at about 5 million metric tonnes. This signifies an enormous gap that has necessitated the dependence on imports to bridge the demand gap and a strain on the country's foreign reserves.


Amongst the challenges identified for the low level of wheat production in the country are the unsuitability of the wheat varieties that have been introduced at various times into the local farming landscape, the limited technical know-how of local farmers with the various wheat seed varieties, insecurity, and inadequate infrastructure. Thus, the need for research, investment, technical inputs, and training for farmers.


Dataphyte in its report stated that Nigeria ranks low compared to other African peers in area harvested, yield, and production of wheat. While South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia harvested hundreds of thousands of arable land, Nigeria only harvests an average of 70,000 to 80,000 per annum. 


The Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO in its analysis identified two reasons for Nigeria's low local production of Wheat, which was the technical and economic issues.


On the technical side, farmers in Nigeria have limited access to improved seed varieties, fertilizers & chemicals, high cost of production, and inadequate irrigation infrastructure, often leading to low yields. While on the economic side, lack of investment opportunities, insufficient funding systems for research, and lack of an overarching strategy resulting in Nigeria's dependence on imports to meet its large population's growing demands.


Against this background, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had flagged off the Nigerian Brown Revolution, an intervention program aimed at boosting the wheat value chain under the Anchor Borrower Scheme, while facilitating the importation of about 13,000 metric tonnes of improved and heat-tolerant wheat seeds which were being multiplied in Jos, Plateau State and other locations.


OLAM in conjunction with the Flour Milling Association of Nigeria had also invested in extensive research programs, seed testing, backward integration programmes, and training initiatives for wheat smallholder farmers. In continuation of the drive towards developing Nigeria and Africa's agricultural value-chain, the international agricultural company, Olam Nigeria, through its subsidiary Crown Flour Mill Limited (CFM), launched a N300 million (US $750,000) 10-year wheat seed trial project aimed at setting up community seed enterprises for Nigerian farmers to increase their production and address the development gap in the wheat value chain. The seeds trial project is expected to focus on experimenting with new heat-tolerant varieties of wheat seeds and adopting a community-based seed enterprise and participatory strategy that has recorded a level of success in select West African countries/ dry areas in Western Africa.


Olam in partnership with the Lake Chad Research Institute, LCRI launched the "Seeds for the Future Project" a ground-breaking initiative designed to achieve sustainable growth in local wheat production. The major components of the project are the identification of the right seed variety suitable for local cultivation; engagement of women wheat farmers' cooperatives; and the application of the best agronomic practices for the variety and the topography. Thereby, allowing Nigeria to scale capacity systematically across the wheat farming belt of the country.


The project is expected to strengthen agricultural production in northern Nigeria's wheat farming belt and make available high-value seeds to farmers in their local communities. 


 The second season of the Olam Green Land webinar was part of the organisation's wheat value chain intervention programmes targeted at helping the Federal Government achieve its national food security, food production self-sufficiency and employment generation agenda.


According to Ashish Pande, the Managing Director of Crown Flour Mill Limited, "By focusing conversations on critical areas of research, development of suitable seed varieties and strategic partnerships, it is possible to accelerate the local wheat production capacity and remove the bottlenecks in the sector."


The Central thrust of the conversations during the webinar which had in attendance over 300 participants from the farming, agriculture, research communities, the academia, and the media, were the need for:

1.     Strategic Collaboration

Stakeholders agreed that strategic collaboration was the way forward for boosting Wheat production in Nigeria.


Tiberio Chiari the keynote speaker at the Olam Green Webinar Series-2 cited how Ethiopia has benefitted immensely from partnerships and strategic collaboration. He noted that in Ethiopia there is a close partnership and cooperation between government, industry players and farmer cooperatives. This has led to the Agricultural Value Chains Programme, which has sustained support for farmers and agripreneurs in the country. He said at the moment, Ethiopia is planning for a Wheat, Flour and Pasta forum to boost the value chain and enhance productivity.


In Nigeria, there is a need for synergized efforts amongst farmers in the wheat value chain. The Central Bank of Nigeria, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Research Institutes, and Farmer Groups should work together to achieve scale in wheat production.

2.    An Integrated National Wheat Policy

The absence of a cohesive national strategy on wheat development, and the unclear role of government and other stakeholders remains one of the challenges limiting Nigeria's capacity to produce wheat and reduce its huge import bill.


According to the President of the Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Salim Saleh Muhammad there is a need for clarity on the direction of wheat production in the country and synergy amongst all stakeholders in the value chain.

3.    Investment in Research & Development

African nations like Ethiopia, Senegal, Morocco, and Egypt are achieving scale in agricultural production, because of significant investments in research and development.


According to stakeholders, the country must prioritize investments and increased funding for Agricultural research institutes in the country. This means the Federal Government should increase its budgetary allocation to these institutes across the country, covering infrastructure, capacity building, remuneration/welfare for staff, logistics amongst others.

4.    Price Standardization

One critical area that stakeholders believe should be addressed to unlock more opportunities in the Wheat farming space, is the issue of "Price Standardization" The Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria identified this as a major challenge for them that needs to be given top priority by the government and critical stakeholders.

This will require the support of the commodities market infrastructure in the country, which seeks to protect the interest of farmers from the excesses of middlemen and an enabling policy environment in the Agricultural sector.


It is also why stakeholders at the webinar agreed that the Federal Government needs to subsidize Agriculture.

5.    Capacity Building for farmers

"Agricultural research institutes need to work closely with Wheat Farmers in the area of deploying seed varieties and training in farming techniques. The process should be transparent and done with the real farmer groups involved in the value chain"-Alhaji Salim Saleh Muhammad, President Wheat Farmers Association in Nigeria.


Irrigation is a key area that should be revamped to support Wheat farming in Nigeria. In the words of the President of the Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria Alhaji Salim Saleh Muhammad "The Federal Ministry of Water Resources needs to support wheat farming, because 40% of farmers were deprived of production capacity due to the inaccessibility to water resources".


All stakeholders present agreed with the keynote speaker Dr. Tiberio Chiari, a durum wheat expert and former Head of the Italian Cooperation in Ethiopia, that critical interventions to ensure suitable seed varieties; investment in research and development as well as capacity building; and collaboration amongst stakeholders are required to drive the success needed across the wheat value chain. 


Some key takeaways from each speakers' submission:

The Managing Director of Crown Flour Mills a subsidiary of Olam, Mr. Ashish Pande in his opening remarks said since its inception in 1989, Olam has remained committed and instrumental to Agricultural development in Nigeria.


He noted that beyond Nigeria Olam has played a significant role in the successful production/delivery of wheat in countries like Senegal. Speaking on the Olam Greenland Webinar series, he stated that it was designed for the development of Nigeria and Africa's agricultural value chain. Mr. Ashish Pande stressed the need for synergized efforts amongst farmers in the wheat value chain.


The Keynote speaker for the webinar Tiberio Chiari, Former Manager, Agricultural Value Chains Programme, Oromia, Ethiopia in his presentation said there are currently 300 millers in Ethiopia.


"In Ethiopia, there is a close partnership and cooperation between government, industry players and farmer cooperatives"- Tiberio Chari added that there are plans for a wheat, flour, and pasta forum to enhance productivity in the sector.


Sall Amadou Tidane the Senior Scientist for the Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research, ISRA in his presentation said Senegal is a strong consumer of wheat products.

He shared that he has found that when women are economically and socially empowered, they become a potent force for change for the whole community.


Sall Tidjane also advocated for a peer-to-peer (P2P) system, which is effective for reaching market players in villages, thereby providing access to credit.


Alhaji Munir Babba Dan Agundi, Chairman, House Committee on Agricultural Colleges and Institutions, House of Representatives of Nigeria in his intervention pointed out that the 2021 wheat farming season commenced in Nigeria with policy backing of the activities of millers, to reduce importation. He called on the Central Bank of Nigeria, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Research Institutes and Farmer Groups to work together to improve wheat production in the country.


Mr. Telta Naphtali the Assistant Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in his remarks called for increased support for the activities of the Lake Chad Institute of Research and Development. This according to him will lead to innovation, creativity, and capacity building in wheat production.


He believes it is time for the agriculture sector to be subsidized to improve research and production.


Alhaji Salim Saleh Muhammad, National President, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN) in his remarks advocated for standardization in the pricing of wheat, increased efforts in seed multiplication and an improved irrigation strategy for wheat farmers.


Dr. Kachalla Kyari Mala, Principal Research Officer, Lake Chad Research Institute, Maiduguri, Borno State in his brief presentation, said the irrigation process needs to improve for wheat farmers to be productive in the country. He commended Olam for supporting the activities of Agric Research Institutes in the country.


Dr. Filippo Maria Bassi, Senior Scientist, Durum Wheat Breeder, International Center for the Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Morocco in a passionate exposition pointed out that stakeholders are important in making wheat production effective.


He called for synergy amongst all stakeholders in the ecosystem to promote wheat production. The Senior Scientist in ICARDA also made a case for the effective funding of Research Institutes that will enable them carry out their roles more effectively.



From the discourse at the Olam Green Webinar Series-2, it is clear that there should be synergy amongst key stakeholders in the Nigerian agriculture sector, to support wheat production and this extends from the policymakers, research institutes, lawmakers all the way to smallholder farmers.


This also means a strategic collaboration between the Flour Millers Association of Nigeria and Agric Research Institutes in the country.


With the recent unveiling of Nigeria's new Agriculture Policy (2021-2025), it is expected that this will propel the executive arm of government to work more closely with the National Assembly, to improve the policy and legislative environment for the agriculture value chain.


While the interventions of the Central Bank of Nigeria in the economy are laudable, there is a need for the CBN to work more closely with the Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. This will help to achieve scale in the production of wheat and in the growth of a vibrant ecosystem.

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