The global food supply chain is facing one of its toughest challenges yet. Climate change, escalating crises in some of the key production regions, high cost of energy and shortage of fertilizers continue to pose threats to food security across borders.
The situation is made worse by the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 lockdown effects. Countries are now sewing up strategies to cool the worrying effects of large-scale food scarcity, runaway inflationary trends in addition to harsh public unrest as seen in places like the Middle East and East Africa.
Nigeria has not been immune to these crises. The country was largely unprepared for the circumstances thrust upon it suddenly by recent supply chain events. As a net importer of food, the unyielding scarcity of FX to import foods combined with soaring prices of commodities in the global market delivers a hurtful blow to the nation’s food security agenda.
A United Nations (UN) report that was processed in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) in Q1 2022 projected that by August around 21 states and over 19 million people would encounter acute food shortage in the country.
The reality did not fare any better. As of July, food price inflation was climbing unabated. It raced to 23.12 percent in August of 2022 from 22.02 percent in July. Food price inflation had soared to a crisis level, the highest since October 2005.
The situations across the poor households that are not able to afford more nutritious meals due to price changes, could be so saddening if captured on a datasheet. This poor nutrition situation could even run deeper considering quite a good number of the indigent segment would pivot to unsafe food options with implications for the population’s health and national productivity.
Remembering the forces that keep worsening its food security position remains in place, the country needed some forms of cheering news to revive optimism in its food security future. The delivery of a positive first-year report on the Seeds for the Future programme, the signature wheat value chain development project of Crown Flour Mills (CFM) Limited, the flour milling subsidiary of Olam Agri, an agribusiness conglomerate, did just that.
The report raises optimism that the country can achieve food production self-sufficiency where development initiatives are backed by robust investments, involvement, engagements, strategic partnerships, and collaborations among key value chain players in the public and private sectors.
The report which was unpacked during the third edition of the agribusiness stakeholders’ consultative forum, the Olam Agri Green Land Webinar Series that was held virtually in September, showed that the initiative achieved its first-year milestone of producing 10Kg of pre-multiplication wheat seed varieties that suit the unique local topography and climate.
Precisely, the growing preference for wheat-derivative foods such as bread, semolina and pasta in the local market is an indication of the country’s gastronomic future. Ensuring these nutritious foods are made widely available and affordable is also going to play a key role in attaining national food security.
But cultivating wheat locally in sufficient quantity has been a challenge. Wheat is cultivated largely in temperate regions. Nigeria’s wheat farming belts are nothing close to that climatic description nor are the soil conditions and cultivation methods suitable for achieving max production output for the crop.
Hence, developing and cultivating high-yielding heat-tolerant wheat seed varieties that suit the unique local topographic and climatic conditions, in addition to widening the engagement of smallholder farmers and adopting modern agronomic practices, have always sounded like the smartest way to arrest the overt reliance on wheat import. Seeing the niggling global food value chain disruption, taking that smart option became critical.
CFM opened a growth path for the wheat industry by committing N300 million to mitigate all the factors that had long impeded successful wheat production efforts in the country. This is the thrust of the Seeds for the Future programme which the firm launched in the year 2021.
The project involves a valuable partnership collaboration between the flour-milling firm and research agencies such as the Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI) and a professional seed breeder from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Dr Filippo Bassi, who served as a consultant on the project.
To ensure the project would not be plagued by issues that affected previous value chain efforts, a detailed survey into the agronomic practices of local smallholder farmers was carried out at the commencement of the project. This professional pivot provided a deeper insight into the factors that had negated previous wheat development efforts while providing a rich understanding of the landscape.
The Principal Research Officer at the Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI) and team lead on the project, even remarked that “the approach of combining data from multiple stations across the West African region helped the team identify and resolve bottlenecks in the value chain”.
The 10Kg pre-multiplication wheat seed varieties produced so far will be planted next season in 1,000m2 plots at the Azumbu farm research station in Jigawa as part of a seed multiplication tactic targeted at producing ample seed varieties which would be distributed to female smallholder wheat farmer cooperatives at some points on the project.
The tactical engagement of the female smallholder wheat farmer cooperatives would help plug the manpower gap at the production level of the value chain. Women are committed and focused. They have always constituted a vital trade link in any grassroots socioeconomic growth initiative.
Most importantly, the project is reminiscent of how Senegal and Ethiopia began to drive wheat production self-sufficiency. Senegal had zero wheat harvest a few years ago. Through tactical engagement and consistent intervention at the production level of the value chain, the country has been able to achieve a commendable level of production output. The same goes for Ethiopia.
The efforts would take quite some time to mature. Aptly described by the agribusiness‘ energetic, visionary Country Head, Ashish Pande, the production drive is a journey that would take a while to mature. The good part, however, is that the journey is gathering pace. The agribusiness is committed to injecting the necessary financial and human resources into the project along the maturation phases.
Nonetheless, the federal government would have to weigh in consistently by putting in place effective policies to ensure the right activation environment and incentives are provided to continuously spur useful private sector actions aimed at fast-tracking the attainment of food production self-sufficiency in the country.