For Nigeria to increase its wheat production and drive growth in its agricultural sector, it must ensure that farmers in major producing states have access to improved seeds and training, experts in the wheat industry have said.

The experts who spoke at the second edition of its Olam Green Land Webinar Series, themed “Rethinking Wheat Farming in Nigeria – Seeds I Research I Partnerships” said yield per hectare has remained relatively low owing to lack of modern agronomic practices, unavailability of improved seeds, and high rate of insecurity across major wheat-growing states.

The experts also stressed the importance of working in collaboration with smallholder farmer cooperatives in developing the wheat value chain in Africa’s most populous country.

Citing the Ethiopian example, Tiberio Chiari, a durum wheat expert and former head of the Italian Cooperation in Ethiopia, during his keynote address highlighted the advantage of working with smallholder farmer cooperatives in developing the wheat value chain.

“There is an economy of scale in dealing with farmers’ cooperatives instead of working with individual farmers, and stakeholders have a key role in ensuring the effective management of the process for optimum impact,” Chiari said.

He said quality control, suitable seed varieties, good management processes, high farmers’ engagement, rigorous grain bulking facilities, availability of investment funds, integrity, among others, are key drivers of success when pivoting to a community-based seed enterprise methodology.

Currently, Africa’s most populous country grows the national average yield for wheat in Africa’s most populous country remains at 1MT per hectare.

Despite being a major market for wheat, the country only produces 400,000 metric tons per annum, a figure that is 5.3 million short of total demand, according to data from the Flour Milling Association of Nigeria.

Sall Amadou Tidiane, a senior scientist at the Senegalese Institute for Agricultural Research (ISRA), said by adopting a peer-to-peer seed enterprise methodology, Senegal grew its wheat production in 2017 from zero wheat to having 2,000 farmers cultivating wheat successfully in 2021.

He revealed that utilizing the deep capacity of local smallholder farmers will spread the impact of the new high-yielding seed varieties.

Also, Kachalla Kyari Mala, the project’s lead researcher and principal research officer, Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI), also a key technical partner on the project, highlighted farmers’ low level of familiarity with the best agronomic practices as one of the factors responsible for their low productivity.

“Engaging farmers right at the conception stages of a major seed development methodology up to the harvest stages will help them become conversant with the best management and agronomic practices,” he said.

Similarly, Ashish Pande, the managing director, Crown Flour Mills, said Olam has been encouraging innovation on a large scale in Nigeria’s wheat value chain through its various interventions.

“We focus on charting novel, innovative paths that tick all the boxes in terms of providing suitable seed varieties, developing refined management processes and implementing trendy agronomic practices in the local wheat value chain,” he said.

“This is in addition to working with and training smallholder wheat farmers while committing the right financial resources into the value chain developmental agenda.

“Bridging the huge wheat production gap in the country is a journey. This stakeholder engagement is a step in the right direction.”

He added that Olam is investing in developing suitable seed varieties for the Nigerian topography, noting that utilizing community-based seed enterprise will manifest in outright development of the wheat farming sector in years to come.

He stated that Olam’s bold investment of N300 million into seed research and the introduction of a novel community-based seed enterprise that utilizes the capacity of women smallholder farmer cooperatives have a strong implication on the livelihoods of the farming communities and the agenda of the Federal Government in terms of employment generation, attainment of food production self-sufficiency and food security within a couple of decades.

Filippo Bassi, the project scientist/senior scientist, International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) and a key partner in developing suitable seed varieties for the project, said the goal of Olam is to deliver over 200,000 tons of wheat worth $70 million while engaging and training 50,000 farmers before 2030.

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