Seeds for the Future, an initiative designed to help Nigeria improve its wheat self-sufficiency, has achieved its first-year goal of 10 kilograms of pre-multiplication wheat seed varieties suitable for the west African nation’s unique topography and climate, according to Crown Flour Mill Ltd. (CFM), the wheat milling subsidiary of global agribusiness Olam Agri.

Launched in 2021, Seeds for the Future is an initiative of Olam Agri Nigeria in partnership with the Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Morocco. The report was unveiled by CFM during the third edition of the agribusiness stakeholders’ consultative forum, the Olam Agri Greenland Webinar Series, held virtually Sept. 8.

Developing and cultivating wheat seed varieties that suit Nigeria’s difficult growing conditions, in addition to a wider engagement of smallholder farmers and adoption of modern agronomic practices, has been a challenge for wheat production self-sufficiency in Nigeria. CFM is helping address these obstacles through the Seeds for the Future initiative, its signature N300 million (US $715,019) wheat value chain development project that was launched in 2021.

“We have made quite an impressive stride on the Seeds for the Future program, going by the first-year report,” said Ashish Pande, the country head for Olam Agri Nigeria. “It is a journey. We will continue to inject human, financial and technical resources into the program to ensure we meet our targets and derive the best results in the years ahead. There are challenges currently in the global food value chain. What this means is that we must look inward to ensure a consistent supply of food to feed our population by channelling investment into agriculture. At CFM and Olam Agri, we are committed to investing at the production level of the wheat value chain, in line with the federal government’s food security and agriculture development agenda.”

Wheat is the third most consumed grain in Nigeria after corn and rice. With 206 million people, the country’s population growth is driving consumption, which was expected to reach 6.06 million tonnes of wheat in 2022-23, according to the Foreign Agricultural Service of the US Department of Agriculture. Nigeria is projected to produce 160,000 tonnes of wheat while importing 6.5 million tonnes to meet this demand.

Filippo Bassi, a professional seed breeder from ICARDA and consultant on the project, said the 10 kilograms of pre-multiplication wheat seed varieties will be planted on plots at the Azumbu farm research station in Jigawa. A subset will be planted during the August rainy season to ensure a larger quantity of seeds as a backup.

Dr. Kachalla Kyari Mala, the principal research officer at LCRI and the project lead researcher, said his team conducted a detailed survey into the agronomic practices of local smallholder farmers at the beginning of the project to better understand the realities in the wheat value chain. He said combining data from multiple stations across the West African region helped the team identify and resolve bottlenecks in the value chain.

“The outcome of the first-year trial and testing of the seed varieties gives some assurance that the investment of Olam Agri will accelerate seed production while pre-release yields actual improvement in productivity in the country’s wheat farming belt,” Mala said.

Emphasizing factors necessary for achieving improved local wheat production self-sufficiency, Dr. Zakari Turaki, director of agricultural research at LCRI, mentioned strong partnerships and collaborative efforts between public institutions and private firms as essential to raising the current level of the local wheat harvest.

Another panelist, Alhaji Munir Babba Dan Agundi, the chairman of the Agricultural Colleges and Institutions Committee of the Federal House of Representatives, called for government policy consistency within the industry as well as synergy among critical stakeholders. He said focused legislation to back value chain development policies would ensure changes in the government would not affect longer-term policies.

Also participating in the forum were Tiberio Chiari, former manager of the Agricultural Value Chains Programme in Oromia, Ethiopia; Dr. Yusuf Jubril Rurum, commissioner for agriculture, Kano State; Alhaji Salim Muhammed, chairman, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria; and Hafiz Muhammed, senior special adviser to the Kano State Governor on Agriculture.