Alhaji Salim Sale Muhammad is the national President of Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria. In this interview, he talks about the ongoing wheat harvesting, the effect of Russia/Ukraine was among other issues.
How would you describe the ongoing wheat harvest in the country?
So far so good, wheat farmers have begun harvesting their wheat and from the information we gathered, the outcome is satisfactory. Though we have late input supply, we encountered some challenges at the initial stage and had it been we all planted according to the scientist’s advice on the date of planting, we would have harvested even before some of the few challenges we are facing now happened.
One of the major challenges we face during harvesting period is lack of mechanized machines, considering the number and size of the farms committed into production this year. Unfortunately, we are just sourcing these machines from the few available companies here in Nigeria.
Harvesting is ongoing and we are hopeful that we will meet the slated harvesting period even though the abrupt rainfall experienced in some states like Niger, Adamawa, some parts of Kano and Jigawa has affected the wheat harvesting processes in these states. We are presently working to ascertain the level of the damages done as well as involve the insurance companies for possible compensation.
What is Nigeria’s estimated wheat production this year?
The projection of wheat this year is over 1.8million bags of wheat which is over 180,000 metric tons. The projection was made based on the indices of 2 to 3 tons per hectare. However, if we would put all the challenges on the table and address them, we will be able to meet up with the projected production because challenges are not obstacles against but rather a learning process.
No doubt, the Nigerian wheat industry needs serious attention as it negatively impacted the price of flour and its byproducts, forcing many companies dealing with wheat or wheat products to shut down.
Now that wheat has been incorporated into the CBN’s anchor borrower scheme, how would you compare the differences?
The differences are clear because when we were doing it on our own, we could only cover a small size of hectares per season. But now that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is on to it, we were able to cultivate a huge number of hectares as well as engage a huge number of farmers into the production activities.
Moreover, with the CBN’s involvement, we were able to commit over 6,000 hectares on wheat production operating in 16 wheat producing states against the initial 11 wheat producing states. This has shown that the anchor borrower scheme had succeeded in expanding the whole production activities by expanding producing states from 11 to 16.
This has allowed the country to grow its wheat production potential and subsequently to reduce the country’s wheat import that has been growing massively in the last six years. That is why we will continue to appreciate the CBN intervention as well as hope that the intervention can be doubled.
Check around and you will get confessional statements from farmers, this is one of the best, transparent and result-oriented programmes.
Do you think the Russia/Ukraine war will affect Nigeria’s wheat demand?
Certainly, it will. What do you expect when Nigeria relies solely on that axis as 34 per cent of its wheat demand comes from that area? Now that they are in crisis, Nigeria cannot get it and the country has to find a way to bridge the gap and that is where the CBN anchor borrower plays a very significant role in ensuring that the gap needed is covered by improving and sustaining locally produced wheat.
To elevate the deficiency or gap, wheat farmers need to double the production as well as raise the wheat farmer’s capacity and capability.
Do you think the Nigerian wheat farmer has the capacity to bridge the gap in supply?
Absolutely! What they need is just a little push in building their capacity and training them on modern agricultural practices. They have to be taught innovative technologies as well as to ensure that they acquire knowledge on the use of modern technology.
One good thing about Nigerian farmers is that they are ever ready to emulate and learn easily because they have been learning the hardest way. The good news here is that the government of the day has the political wheel to move wheat production to the next level. That is why we must complement President Buhari and the CBN governor.
Similarly, recent findings have shown that Nigeria has over 1.2 million hectares of land that have not been put into use, and if those hectares will be fully utilized, the gap will surely be filled by our members.
Recovery has been one of the major issues militating against anchor borrowers scheme. How far have you gone with recovery?
We have just begun recovery processes as you are aware that harvesting is ongoing. However, we have started on a good impression and I hope the impression will be sustained throughout the recovery process. We have also put some mechanism in place in each state that will ensure transparency and accountability in recovery processes and these mechanisms include the association, CBN, consultants among other stakeholders. We have also adopted a scientific approach to the recovery system that will strengthen the farmer’s financial capabilities. The process entails given out 12 bags to pay off the loan and we have devised measures for the millers to uptake excess from farmers.
How far has the association gone with preparation towards wet season wheat farming?
This is one thing that we have committed a lot to. The CBN introduced a variety in the country last year. The new variety was tested in Plateau State and the result was satisfactory. However, we are presently in talks with the CBN to release the seeds to us for mass production in different locations.
It will interest you to know that Nigeria will begin wet season wheat farming this year. We are discussing with the CBN on the issue and we have slated Kano, Sokoto, Birnin Kebbi and some other places for the wet season production.