We’ve made breakthrough in breeding adaptable wheat varieties for Nigeria –ED, LCRI

The Executive Director of Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI), Dr. Oluwasina Olabanji, who is also the team leader of the wheat agricultural transformation agenda in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the institute is turning Borno State to fruitful wheat fields. In this interview with MESHACK IDEHEN, Olabanji explained that prospects is getting brighter for Nigeria to free itself from decades of dependence on imported wheat flour because his institute has made breakthroughs in breeding of adaptable wheat varieties. Excerpts.

Can you throw more light on what the Lake Chad Research Institute is about, and what its mandate are?

The Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI) is the organisation that has the national mandate for the genetic improvement of wheat, millet and barley, and research into the production problems of the crops in the north-east zone of the country. Hence, the LCRI on wheat research, have done a lot of work on the genetic improvement of wheat in Nigeria. Going down memory lane, you will recall that as at 1976, the average yield was 1.2 tons per hectare.

But, with the launching of the wheat transformation agenda by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development the institute have been able to develop some improved varieties that can give us an average yield of 5 to 6 tons per hectare.

How was the institute able to achieve this feat?

LCRI was able to move wheat production in the country from the average yield was 1.2 tons per hectare to the present 5-6 tons mainly through collaboration with Cimmyt in Mexico and Icarda in Tunisia. These two improved varieties are Norman Borlaug and Reyne 28. These two varieties are to be released in 2014. Nigeria spends N635 billion annually importing wheat into this country and that cannot be allowed to continue.

Nigeria’s wheat potential is yet untapped. We have the potentials to produce our own wheat. We have 600,000 hectares of land in this country that is suitable for wheat production, out of which only 10 per cent of land this area is utilised for wheat production. But, within this agricultural transformation agenda, we have proposed, that between 2013 and 2014, we will cultivate 150,000 hectares of land in the wheat-growing areas. These are 10 states in the northern parts of the country.”

Similarly, we have rain-fed wheat in Nigeria. And this rain-fed wheat is cultivated in Nigerian highlands. These Nigerian highlands are in Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State, Jos in Plateau State, and Obudu in Cross River State. These are potential areas for rainfed wheat production. We have about 80,000 hectares area of land in these areas that are suitable for rain-fed wheat production.

You were recently at the office of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to present bread and other pastries made from 100 per cent wheat grown in northern Nigeria. What does that mean in the effort to make Nigeria a wheat growing and consuming nation?

That move; that visit to the agric ministry to present 100 percent bread and pastries from wheat grown in Nigeria underscored the fact that there are a lot of opportunities open to Nigeria from locally grown wheat, which are yet to be tapped. In the course of our wheat producing research, we have found that the northern part Nigeria suitable for cultivation of these varieties of wheat with improved yields.

When will the full scale production of wheat begin in a way that can be truly beneficial to the country.

The first thing is that we want to be able to meet national demand locally in wheat. However, concerning your question between now and 2015, we should be able to produce half of our demand in this country.

Currently, our national demand for wheat is 3.7 million metric tons annually, and by 2015, we should be able to achieve 50 per cent of this national demand. And that will reduce the cost of importation by 50 per cent. The N635 billion that is spent annually on importing wheat into Nigeria can be reduced by half in 2015.

Because of that target that we have, we are also trying to partner with companies that are ready to help us to commercialise these products, like the wheat flours; the bakers to come in baking our own wheat flour into bread. The cassava-wheat composite bread is also good. It will also reduce importation of wheat into this country. We could also use sorghum-wheat flour for baking bread. But I think the best nutritional value is 100 per cent wheat bread and the cassava-wheat bread.

Wheat and agricultural transformation agenda, ATA, is seriously ongoing. With the wheat ATA, for instance, we emphasise value chain; that is not just producing the wheat, but also going into processing our Nigerian wheat into flour. LCRI have recipes that are made from this wheat flour, like the bread. We have 100 per cent Nigerian made bread. Our wheat flour is comparable, if not superior, to imported flour that we are clamouring for in Nigeria.

In the midst of trying to do so much, what are the immediate and long term challenges that the institute is facing?

There are challenges. Some of these challenges are the provision of adequate and quality seeds. Seed is the major constraint to crop production in Nigeria. But, with the emphasis now, through the use of these value chains, the seed companies are brought on board for seed production. The national agricultural seeds council is also there to certify these seeds. And we in the agricultural research institutes are mandated to produce breeder and foundation seeds. All these will be made available for the seed companies for them to produce certified seeds for our farmers.

Another challenge is the poor extension services delivery. There is what we call REFILS, which is part of the research component. It has been very weak, that means, the interaction between farmers, researchers and end users have been very weak over the years. But with this value chain approach, we are organising stakeholders’ workshop whereby all the stakeholders will be brought under a platform where we discuss these challenges and proffer solutions, so that, in due course, we will be able to meet our national target of being self-sufficient in wheat production.

How is the LCRI harnessing the various existing infrastructure in those areas in the course of meeting its objectives?

We need irrigated water which is to be provided by the River Basin Development Authorities. That is why they are established. Land preparation is also their mandate. We are trying to collaborate with them through the stakeholders’ platform, so that the River Basin Development Authority will be able to key into the wheat agricultural transformation agenda by providing these facilities for our wheat farmers. These irrigation facilities need to be improved upon.

Borno State has more than 100,000 hectares of land suitable for wheat production, but the irrigation facilities are depleted. We have to work on them. We have to rehabilitate the irrigation facilities in all the River Basin Development Authorities. There must be synergy between the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Water Resources. We can’t work in isolation. The River Basin Development Authorities are to provide facilities such as water and land preparation. That is there mandate.

The other issue is on how to get these farmers into a corporation. We have started registering all the wheat farmers, and they are already in association so that input can be made available to these wheat farmers at the right time. On linkages, we have platforms that are going to link up all the stakeholders in wheat production. The researchers are to generate the improved technologies for the farmers’ use.

With the insecurity in those parts of the country where wheat farming is largely being done, how is LCRI grappling with the situation?

Certainly there are insecurity challenges in the north-east zone of the country, which is not far from this issue of poverty. The youth are not gainfully employed. So, they go into criminality. The efforts which we were making, which we started during the wet season, were to empower these youth through training. We trained them on seed production. Before then, we told the youth within the communities to form youth association.

They formed youth forum. About 62 of them registered. We trained them on how to produce millet seeds. We entered into a memorandum of understanding with them. We gave them our improved seeds of millet and also fertiliser. At the end of the harvest, we are going to buy the seed they produce under our strict supervision. We will then remove the cost of our inputs. That is what we have done for the wet season.

During the dry season, which is the wheat production season, we are equally going to train the youths and farmers in that region, particularly in Marte local government area, where we have more than 50,000 hectares for wheat production. We are going to train these youth on how to produce wheat seeds. We shall also empower them by giving them inputs. By so doing, we have created jobs for these youth. We have also reduced poverty and also made the country selfsufficient in wheat production and, at the same time, securing our land.

Part of our plans on consolidating on the security we presently have is to catch these young farmers as early as possible. It is for that reason that we also train the youth on wheat production, because the present age of our wheat farmers is 50 to 60 years. We need to catch these young farmers so that they can replace these old farmers. Then there will be continuity of wheat production in the country.

What are the safeguards being put in place to sustain the achievements already recorded by your institute?

Wheat is a cash crop. It is profitable. Within four months you can make money from wheat production. Wheat production is not new in Nigeria. About 10 states are the wheat-growing areas. They have the production capacities. The irrigation facilities are available. Before 1987, Nigeria’s national production of wheat was about 70,000 to 100,000 metric tons. By January 1987, the government took a bold step to ban the importation of wheat into this country to promote local production.

The same government that banned wheat importation in 1987 lifted the ban on wheat importation in 1993. As a result of that lifting of ban, there was no market for wheat. And many farmers that went to wheat production, because there was no market, went back into vegetable production. And, you will agree with me that vegetable production is for perishable crops. It can’t be stored for long, but wheat can be stored for four good years and it still remains as it is.

What strategies have you put in place to sensitise the people on the importance and benefits of this venture?

What have our strategies to sensitise the policy makers and the farmers and to win them back to wheat production? We have already started it. Advocacy and sensitisation and visits to all the wheat-growing states in the country are parts of these strategies. We completed the first phase about three months ago, and the second phase is starting soon, and we are covering the remaining six states. We have been able to parley with the policy makers, particularly the governors, deputy governors, the commissioners for agriculture, the programme managers for ADP and they are all enthusiastic about the revamping of wheat production in Nigeria.

We also had discussions with the farmers. Presently, a bag of wheat costs about N15, 000. So, they know it is very profitable, and many farmers are keying into it; they are showing interest. The second strategy is that we used to have what we called field days where we invite all the political office holders, the farmers, researchers and NGOs to our field days, to come and see the technologies that are being generated. And they were all impressed. All these are parts of the sensitisation process.

Can you throw some light on the optimum time for planting wheat in Nigeria, the duration of wheat on field and shelf life and the possibilities of good yield and returns?

The optimum time of planting our wheat in Nigeria is middle of November where you harvest by middle of March. This means that within four months you have already harvested it. Wheat is a temperate crop. It thrives under cool temperature condition, which we have during the dry season in the northern part of the country, whereby the night temperature ranges from 8 to 13 degree Centigrade, which is very good for wheat production. We have it in this country and that is why our wheat is thriving very well.

As for the duration of wheat on field and shelf life, LCRI have some early maturing varieties that could even mature before the four months. We have them, and we are going to promote them the more. In terms of good yields and returns can tell you that the institute in collaboration with contact farmers within four months was able to produce 100 metric tons of wheat which was put in inert atmosphere four years and the thing was still very viable.

How is the LCRI doing in terms of funding and support its research?

To be frank, we are having funding challenges, we don’t have money. The research institutes are not adequately funded. There are certain equipment that we need to have. Recently I received a letter from Scotch Whiskey Research Institute in Scotland, and they are now telling us that the yield of wheat for making ethanol is higher than that of maize, millet and sorghum.

In Scotland, they are now using wheat for ethanol. They have requested for our own Nigerian wheat samples, because they said they heard that our own wheat is very good. They are ready to collaborate with us. There are some equipment they use for this value chain of wheat. We have not exploited all the products that can be made from wheat. It is not just food: ethanol, diesel, they are all from wheat. Even pharmaceuticals, they are all from wheat. We need to exploit all these products. But, before you can do that, you need a well equipped laboratory, and that requires funding.

We also need government support. We need government support in the area of training of our personnel, particularly the Lake Chad Research Institute staff. We are very thin on the ground and I have made request to the Honorable Minister to give me approval to recruit more staff.

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3 Comments

  1. Dr. Otemuyiwa I. Olusegun says:

    Sir,
    Our research laboratory is interested in analysis of wheat for Nutrient and gluten. How can we have some of the samples.
    Address;
    Dr. I.O. Otemuyiwa
    Department of Chemistry
    Obafemi Awolowo University,
    Ile-Ife

  2. I H Gital says:

    i am very much interested in seeing this development concerning wheat production in Nigeria. i would like you to be sending me an update via my e-mail.

    Thank you.

  3. I H Gital says:

    kindly send me the list of varietis of wheat grown in nigeria

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