”Nigeria has broken the wheat jinx” – Agric Minister

 ”Nigeria has broken the wheat jinx” – Agric Minister
The Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, CON, has stated that the Federal Government has emphatically put a lie to the long-touted myth that Nigeria cannot produce wheat in commercial quantities to enable her exit the choking grip of importation of the commodity.
The Minister made the assertion on the 12th March 2014, while launching two new high-yield,early maturing, heat-tolerant and drought-resistant wheat varieties developed by the Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI), in conjunction with the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, with assistance from the Federal Government and grant from the African Development Bank (ADB).
The two new wheat varieties, named Norman Borlaug and Reyna-28 which have potential yields of 5 – 6 metric tons per hectare as against the traditional variety with a yield per hectare of just 0.8 million metric tons per hectare were showcased to members of the public, agribusiness investors, journalists and other stakeholders on the field in Kadawa in Kura Local Government of Kano State.
According to the Minister, when the Federal Government launched the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) in 2011, the traditional low-yield wheat variety being grown in the country with just 0.8 million tons per hectare was not considered a viable candidate for inclusion among the crops to be supported under the Ministry’s Growth Enhancement Support (GES). However, he recalled that in 2012, the Ministry decided to support research works being conducted to develop improved varieties of the crop by LCRI, noting that he was happy with the outcome the wheat game-changer being showcased to the public.
Said the Minister, “In 1987, the Government banned the importation of wheat and implemented an Accelerated Wheat Production Programme aimed at stimulating local production of wheat in Nigeria… Farmers were mobilized to produce wheat and were provided necessary inputs at subsidized rates, and equipment to boost wheat production. The production of wheat expanded from 50,000MT in 1987 to 600,000MT by 1990. Our farmers had proven that they can produce wheat, if well supported.However, several challenges scuttled the burst of energy to produce wheat locally. The introduced varieties had very low yields, as average yield was less than one ton per hectare. But more importantly, the programme failed because of the reluctance of wheat millers in the country to patronize wheat produced locally in the country.  With the lifting of the ban in 1990, the programme abruptly ended, and wheat production spiralled downwards to 70,000MT by 1991.
“Today, Nigeria’s wheat import is about 4 million MT per annum and estimated to grow at an alarming rate of 5% per annum.  At this rate, the country will be importing 10 million MT of wheatannually by 2030, spending US$15 billion on wheat imports alone.Such over-dependence on imported wheat will pose significant risks to Nigeria's future growth. Nigeria must grow a lot more of its own wheat and reduce the national, economic and political risks from depending on other nations for our food supply.Today, we are reviving hope for Nigeria to produce its own wheat and free itself from decades of dependence on imported wheat.
“A silent revolution is [now] happening on wheat farms all across Northern Nigeria. The target of the wheat transformation is to increase national production from 300,000 metric tons to about 1.5 million metric tons per annum by 2017.  The wheat transformation agenda will generate one million jobs in the rural areas of Nigeria over the next four years of the program and generate over N42 Billion in incomes annually for farmers and millers.

Dr. Adesina further disclosed that his Ministry has begun massive distribution of early maturing, high yield wheat varieties to farmers through the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) and electronic wallet scheme. In the 2013/2014 wheat dry season, 9,143 farmers in eight Northern States (Kano, Jigawa, Kebbi, Zamfara, Borno, Yobe, Gombe, and Sokoto) each received improved seeds, at no cost, and two bags of fertilizer, at 50% subsidy, via their mobile phones.

A total of 2,500 hectares of wheat fields were cultivated in 2013.  For the 2014/2015 wheat season, a total of 75,000 hectareswill be cultivated by 75,000 farmers. The area under wheat production is expected to increase to 150,000 ha by 2015/2016 dry season and to 300,000 hectaresby 2016/2017 dry season. At the average yield of 5MT/Ha, Nigeria will achieve its target of producing 1.5 million metric tons of wheat by 2017 and reduce wheat imports by 50%.
The Minister also stated that to ensure massive wheat production, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is collaborating with SG2000 on an aggressive Technology Transfer programme. “Using funds from the wheat levy, we will support wheat farmers with processing equipment (500kg per hour milling machines), land water development, irrigation pumps, all at subsidized rates. We will also develop policy options to promote and protect domestic producers and processors.The accelerated production of wheat all across the north east and North West regions of the country will create massive amounts of jobs, especially for the youth, and reduce insecurity in these regions. We must not grow poverty in Nigeria, because poverty is not an industry.

“To ensure that Nigerian farmers are not turned into destitute by food importers, the Minister said Government will soon introduce a bill that will make it mandatory for wheat millers to buy our own local wheat and use it to substitute for some of the wheat being imported. Cassava flour and sorghum flour use in bread and confectionaries will also become mandatory. Nigeria will be free from food importers who simply export jobs away from Nigeria, while creating oceans poverty here and all across our farming communities.”
According to him, any effort to address the security situation in the country must begin with addressing the food security question, Adesina said that all across the northern regions of the country, there is a relative calm in most rural areas of the North, the reason simply being that agriculture is working and government programmes are impacting massively on millions of people.Taken together, he said, the total number of farmers who benefitted from GES in northern Nigeria was 3.3 million in 2013, compared to 1.4 million in 2012, revealing that the three northern regions represent 77% out of the total number of farmers who benefitted in 2013 across the country.
“I am confident that as we support Nigerian farmers, and get a new generation of young commercial farmers into agriculture as a business, Nigeria will become a global powerhouse in food. President Jonathan has a dream that our rural areas would be revived as agriculture flourishes. That no Nigerian will go to bed hungry. That defining characteristic of agriculture will be wealth, not poverty.”

Earlier in his address to stakeholders, Executive Director of the Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI) Dr O. G. Olabanji, said the Governing Board and the entire staff of the Institute were particularly encouraged by the support and unparalleled enthusiasm, passion and commitment by Government to the transformation of Agriculture in Nigeria, particularly the inclusion of wheat and millet as commodity crops in the ATA in 2013. He said the Institute has the national mandate for the genetic improvement of wheat, millet, barley in the entire North-East zone of Nigeria.
Dr. Olabanji disclosed that at inception, the focus of the Institute was identification of land races with high yielding and responsive to Nigerian ecological conditions but that as demand for agricultural products increased, the objectives of research were widened to include development of high yielding, early maturing, drought and heat tolerant, pests and disease of crop varieties.
He further said that during the 2013/2014 wheat season, the Institute cultivated 20 hectares for production of breeder and foundation seeds, the first of such programme in the history of the Institute.He also said the two varieties launched will be released to farmers for cultivation during 2014 cropping season.
While thanking the Honourable Minister for his unprecedented support to his and other research institutes, he solicited more assistance to enable the institute address shortage of funds which has hampered the recruitment of high calibre staff that was started in 2013, as well as inadequate farm equipment, notably tractor implements and combine harvester without which the institutes goal of producing enough planting materials for distribution to seed companies and farmers will be adversely affected.