By Jimoh Babatunde
The managing director of Crown Flour Mill Limited (CFM), the parent company, Mr. Ashish Pande, has said that Bridging the huge wheat production gap in the country is a journey.
He spoke during the second edition of its Olam Green Land Webinar Series, themed “Rethinking Wheat Farming in Nigeria – Seeds I Research I Partnerships”, yesterday.
Pande added, “Bridging the huge wheat production gap in the country is a journey. This stakeholder engagement is a step in the right direction. The deep investment we are making into developing suitable seed varieties for the Nigerian topography and utilizing a community-based seed enterprise will manifest in outright development of the wheat farming sector in years to come.”
The CFM MD said 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.
He said, “Olam has been encouraging innovation on a larger scale. 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. This is in addition to working with and training smallholder wheat farmers while committing the right financial resources into the value chain developmental agenda.”
Tiberio Chiari, a durum wheat expert and former Head of the Italian Cooperation in Ethiopia, who was the keynote speaker at the webinar, highlighted the advantage of working with smallholder farmer cooperatives in developing the wheat value chain. Citing Ethiopia as a case study, Chiari said, “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.”
He said quality control, suitable seed varieties, good management processes, high smallholder farmer 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.
Dr Sall Amadou Tidiane, a senior scientist at the Senegalese Institute for Agricultural Research (ISRA), provided a narrative of the Senegalese wheat value chain. He said by adopting a peer-to-peer seed enterprise methodology, the country grew from zero wheat production in 2017 to having 2,000 farmers cultivating wheat successfully in 2021.
He revealed that utilizing the deep capacity of female local smallholder farmers will spread the impact of the new high-yielding seed varieties.
Dr Filippo Bassi, the project scientist/senior scientist, International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) and 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 USD while engaging/training 50,000 farmers before 2030.
Dr Kachalla Kyari Mala, the project’s lead researcher/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.
He said, “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.”
Alhaji Munir Babba Dan Agundi, Chairman, House Committee on Agricultural Colleges and Institutions, Nigeria’s House of Representatives; Alhaji Salim Saleh Muhammad, National President, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN); and Mr. Telta Naphtali, National Wheat Value Chain Desk Officer, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), who were panelists on the webinar, emphasized that operational synergy is crucial to the achievement of wheat production and self-sufficiency in Nigeria.
The webinar drew participants from the farming, agriculture, research communities and the academia, amongst others.