12 Apr

Nigeria’s Wheat Plan Falters With Imports Set to Surge

Nigeria’s decades-old program to boost wheat production and reduce imports worth more than $4 billion a year has faltered with farmers cutting output because of soaring input costs, leaving foreign suppliers to meet rising domestic demand, officials and farmers’ groups said.

The latest harvest is coming in slowly and output will drop in the current season, Zakari Turaki, head of cereals research at the Lake Chad Research Institute, based in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, said in a phone interview.

Many farmers say that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, which took office in 2015, suspended a program to support strategic crops, including wheat subsidies, causing many of them to abandon the grain.

“The problem is that farm inputs, like seeds, are not subsidized and the poor farmer cannot afford to buy it,” said Mala Kachalla, a wheat farmer who spoke by phone from the northern city of Zaria. “Some of our farmers imported winter seeds as they’re cheaper. Unfortunately, this type doesn’t grow in this part of the world, because here we grow spring wheat.”

Nigeria produced an average of 80,000 tons of wheat a year for decades until the introduction of a new variety in the 2012-13 season that tripled the average yield as more areas were cultivated, according to the Lake Chad Institute.

Output fell sharply to 60,000 metric tons in the 2016-17 season after reaching a peak of 350,000 tons in 2013-14, according to Turaki, with farmers also hurt by the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency in some of the growing regions. He sees a further production decline in the current season to 50,000 tons.

In contrast, Nigeria’s wheat imports, which reached 4.6 million tons in 2017, are expected to expand by 9 percent to 5 million tons next year and double from that by 2030, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as demand surges for wheat-based foods such as pizza, pasta and bread. The West African nation estimates it spends $4 billion to $5 billion annually on wheat imports.

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