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Confronting wheat shortage

Published by The Nation on Wed, 07 Apr 2021

As Nigeria grapples with wheat insufficiency, stakeholdershave met to discuss strategies to boost its production. DANIEL ESSIETreportsWheatgrain is in high demand from millers and pasta plants owners. To produce the required amount of wheat to feed the worlds growing population, researchers at Department of Global Development, Cornell University, United States predicted that wheat yields must increase at least 1.4 per cent yearly through 2030.Like other staples, wheat is cultivated in Nigeria. However, its production is not sufficient for domestic requirements.Despite this, population growth and increased feed grains requirements are expected to drive up Nigerias demand for wheat in the approaching years.The government has sought to reduce its reliance on imports by encouraging increased domestic production. Continued imports impose a significant drain on the Federal Governments foreign exchange reserves.But farmers are encountering various problems from weather,to market prices and high costs of inputs.To keep feeding its vast and growing population, stakeholders resolved that efforts must be made to improve the wheat supply to meet growing demand for bread and other products.The forum was an online webinar, entitled: Deepening the wheat farming development programme in Nigeria through innovation, increasing investments, and collaborations. It was run by Olam Grain, a leading food and agribusiness conglomerate, which supports government, policymakers, and industry leaders achieve wheat self-sufficiency and food security.The conference embodies much of the knowledge base for wheat research and development.During theprogramme that featuredtop-levelFederal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Developmentofficials, theInternational Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), experts discussed on the challenges facing wheat production.One concern was that Nigerias wheat production has been so dismal.Colloborating this is data from the United States Department of Agriculture, which indicatedthatthe country produced just 2.06 per cent of the total amount of wheat consumedbetween 2010 and 2020.Notwithstanding, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, has assured that since wheatisa key driver of growth, the government was working to increase local production through strategic investments and programmes to help to build a strong sector.The Minister, who spoke through his Technical Adviser on Knowledge Management and Communications, Richard-Mark Mbaram, urged stakeholders to make wheat farming attractive and competitive.The Chairman, Agricultural Colleges and Institutions Committee of the Federal House of Representatives, Alhaji Munir Babba Dan Agundi, saidthe focus should be on accelerated production of high-quality wheat varieties and ensuring they reach farmers who need them.He emphasised the need to bring public authorities and private companies together to discuss how best to advance the sector and make it stronger and even more efficient.He urged the theFederal Government to workwith stakeholdersto set up innovation platforms to scale up innovative technologies, seed production and distribution in all of the countrys major wheat producing areas.The Guest Speaker,Dr Filippo Maria Bassi, said Nigeria could make a headway in wheat production if there were concerted effortsto help the farmers to boost yields by deploying productivity-enhancing technologies.A senior scientist at the International Centre for the Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) based in Morocco, Bassi is 2017 Olam prize winner .He has established heat-tolerant wheat varieties in Senegal and Mauritania that are now cultivated by farmers in Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and the Republic of the Gambia.Bassi leads the international breeding programme of ICARDA for the improvement of durum wheat.The team releasedtwo ICARDA durum wheat varietiesnamed Haby and Aminacapable of producing an average of three tonnes per hectare in just 92 days.For the National President Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Salim Mohammed, the future of wheat is an important question for policy makers,uring for concerted efforts to make Nigeria a bread basket .Mohammed,however noted that the domestic production has suffered from lack of policy support and the perception that Nigeria cannot competitively produce wheat. He said that there was a need to have a discussion between the government and the farmers, to achieve the much needed synergy in addressing challenges as well as mapping out strategies for improvement.The Head, Flour Milling Association of Nigerias (FMAN), Wheat Development Programme, Sarah Huber said the association has provided input loan and training on modern farming techniques to the farmers with a view to boosting their annual output and reduce production cost.Huber said the association was encouraging cultivationacross the wheat-producing states through additional aggregation and warehouse capacity, including the commitment to off-take all wheat grain meeting basic quality standards.Huber said the ultimate objective is to make wheat competitive, noting that wheat farmer service centres have been established in 15 local government areas in Jigawa, Kano and Kebbi states to drive the 2020/2021 wheat farming season. She also said the centres would provide free training to farmers on modern farming methods and would also serve as points for direct off-take of wheat grains for up to 5,000 farmers.She maintained that, the research farm was established in Ringim Local Government with support of Lake Chad Research Institute for new seeds varieties from Mexico and Sudan and improved agronomic practices.A Senior Research Officer, Lake Chad Research Institute, Dr Kachalla Kyari Mala, noted that revamping wheat production would require massive investments in irrigation and rural roads, access to finance and construction of storage facilities.
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