650 000 hectares of agricultural land lay waste in Northern states as Nigeria spends $2 billion on wheat imports in 24 months

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With a 650 000 hectares of available agricultural land lay waste in Northern states, Nigeria imported an average of $2 billion worth of wheat in 24 months, Naija247News understands.

Africa’s largest economy has a milling industry that has the capacity to mill at least 4.5 million tonnes of wheat yet farmers are only producing about 300 000 tonnes nationwide.

Yet the country with a population of over 200 million people is in need of more wheat farmers.

Currently, Nigeria has up to 650 000 hectares of
available agricultural land for wheat production yet very few individuals are taking advantage of this.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, grain prices have been rising steadily. At the onset of the war, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said the price of a bushel of wheat immediately rose by 5.7%.

But even before then, the price of wheat in Nigeria had increased by about 30% due to shortages at home. The Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria said local production of wheat here meets less than 10%.

Nigeria imported an average of $2 billion worth of wheat in 2020 and 2021, mostly from the United States and Russia, according to the country’s statistics bureau.

SITE SELECTION

The States that supports wheat production include states in the Northern region. These include Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Katsina, Yobe, Kaduna, Borno, Bauchi, Adamawa, Jigawa, Gombe and Kano. The average annual rainfall varies between 500mm and 120mm. Sometimes, the rainfall may be as low as 200mm hence it is important irrigation facilities are in place.

Also, the soil should be well-drained. Wheat does well in soils that have low acid and saline level. However if you are growing your wheat around the North Eatern part of Nigeria particularly the Lake Chad region, you’d need to irrigate often due to the nature of the soil. The soil in this area is vertisol hence irrigation should be done at least twice a month. If you’re growing your wheat in the Sokoto area, irrigation should be done once a week, because the soil is sandy.

SEED SELECTION

There are different varieties of wheat and the type you plant depends on the purpose of farming. In the case of biscuits and cookies, the white and soft wheat is the best variety. On the other hand, the ideal wheat for making pasta like spaghetti and noodles is the durum wheat.

Over the years, Nigerian scientists have sought to improve the current varieties of wheat. The features that are being improved upon include the yield, time taken to mature, drought and heat tolerance as well as pest and disease resistance. Additionally, the milling and baking qualities are also being improved upon. The currently available cultivars in the country include Mexican origin, Seri M82, Cettia, Linfen and Atilla Gan Atilla varieties. These varieties are high yielding and are able to produce up to 4.5 tonnes per hectare.

Interestingly, there are a couple of recently engineered wheat varieties namely the Norman Borlaug and Reyna -28 which have potential yields of 5 to 6 tonnes per hectare.

PLANTING

This is the first and a very important step. The planting season is usually in November/December and it takes about 3 to 4 months for the plant to mature and be ready for harvest.

The planting season coincides with the beginning of harmattan. Early planting during the dry season helps to lower weed growth and by the time the weeds begins to sprout the wheat is already matured enough to suppress their growth.

The method of planting is by digging trenches using a shovel or by using a wheat drill. The wheat drill can be attached to a tractor and the seeds are thrown into the funnel in a semi-circular motion. You can also plant the wheat by broadcasting the seeds however the drilling is the best method. Drilling is known to improve yield and suppress weeds compared to the other methods of planting.

Generally, the plant should be watered monthly to promote growth and boost yield. However if the region enjoys abundant rain, there’s no need to water at all.

There are some necessary activities during the planting season that helps to promote yield. One important activity is the application of fertilizers. The fertilizer used is the NPK type. The fertilizer should be applied twice during the growing season. The first application is used in the ratio of 60:50:50. On the other hand, the second application is 60:0:0. This application is done 6 weeks after the initial application.

Another important activity is protecting your plantation against pest infestation. The major pest that affects wheat is the stem borer. However, this attack can be prevented with precautionary measures by treating the seeds with Apron Star or Apron Plus before planting.

HARVESTING AND STORAGE

When it is time to harvest, you can check if the wheat is ready for harvest by rubbing the head between your fingers and chewing the wheat grain. If the wheat cracks in your mouth and becomes soft as you chew then it is ready for harvest. The grains can be harvested manually by cutting the stalk and winnowing to remove the chaff.

A problem with storage might be rat infestation. This is why the storage area needs to be well protected from rats by blocking all possible holes.

Also, the storage method is pneumatic. The wheat is stored in a three layered bag which deprives any insect larva or egg carried from the field from surviving