The Executive Director of Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI) Dr Oluwasina Olabanji spoke with COLLINS NNABUIFE on the activities of the institute on wheat production especially in Borno State.
How has the insurgency affected wheat production in Nigeria?
The insurgency in the northeast is very unfortunate, and there is no doubt, it has given us a setback, particularly in the agricultural sector as I have always said, our wheat production is mainly from Kano, Borno, Kebbi, Jigawa state, and because of this insurgency, honestly, we have been unable to grow our wheat in Borno State in the past four years.
The Lake Chad Research Institute having the National mandate for the genetic improvement of wheat in Nigeria, we acquired 60 hectares of land in Borno and that area is suitable for wheat production. Look at the soil, the soil is very unique, very rich in organic fertilizer, in fact, in terms of irrigation, instead of five days interval of irrigation, the irrigation to our wheat is about a week interval, that means the soil is able to retain enough moisture for the grow and development of our wheat
But in the past four years, we were unable to exploit Borno State for our wheat production, so have been moving from one state to another, three years ago we were in Gombe, last year we were in Zamfara where we acquired 30 hectares of land for our research work and also for seed production, this year, we are in Kebbi State where the governor gave us 30 hectares of land and we have planted the 30 hectares for seed production and also establish 15 trials of wheat.
This year we have been able to expand our wheat production to other marginal areas to enhance wheat production in Nigeria and for us to be self sufficient in wheat production in the next five years.
If not for this insurgency in the northeast, we made a pledge that come 2017, Nigeria will reduce the importation of wheat by 50 per cent, that was our goal, but unfortunately, we could not actualize that goal for now. I believe we have been able to attain 30 per cent to 35 per cent.
Recently the government had clamoured for the inclusion of cassava flour in bread baking and here you are talking about wheat production, how are you managing the both?
The issue of wheat/cassava bread come to being as a result of our inability to meet our National requirements as at that time when this idea was conceived, our production of wheat was very low, Nigeria has 2.2 per cent self sufficiency in wheat production and the country had no other choice than to look for other crops that can be blended in wheat and bake bread.
But now, our self sufficiency has increased to 7.6 per cent and am telling you now, with the political will of the present government, and these consistent policies of the government, am assuring you that in the next five years, honestly we should be able to produce adequate quantity of wheat in this country for any agricultural.
Market is the key, if there is no market, the farmers will not cultivate that crop but through our wheat value chain, we have opened the market for wheat production in Nigeria, the millers are buying all the wheat produced by our farmers and I want to appreciate them because they granted my Institute N20 million research grant to support research and development, and recently, the distributed 2000 water ponds for wheat farmers and 2000 bags (100kg) of wheat to wheat farmers in four wheat producing states, this is very encouraging and this is just the beginning because they promised to support our wheat production in this country so that they can have raw materials for their mills unlike before when they said that Nigeria wheat is inferior, but today, they have accepted that Nigeria is of high quality and that is why young farmers have gone into wheat production, those other farmers that went back into vegetable production have come back to wheat production, s bag of wheat cost N40, 000, which crop can attract such amount?
What other challenges are you facing on wheat production?
Generally, there are challenges, the major one is inadequate funding for research, though there is improvement, but we are asking for more improvement. If you look at the technology globally, it is advancing, we need money to modernise our laboratory equipment, we need to promote mechanized farming, a situation where farmers use hoe and cutlass is not acceptable for self sufficiency, so we have challenges in those areas and government should intervene, provide inputs to our wheat farmers, promote mechanized farming, give more attention to research by giving us more fund.
On the issue of insurgency, peace has returned to Borno state and our institute have established trial and seed production in Borno state and we are going to have a mini field day to show the outside world that Maiduguri is now safe.