‘Why FG Lifted Ban on Importation of Wheat from US’

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Gilbert Ekugbe

The former Executive Director, Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI), Mr. Oluwasina Olabanji, yesterday stated that the threat from the United States of America to stop patronising Nigeria’s crude oil was the main reason the federal government lifted the ban on importation of wheat from the US.

Olabanji at the Lagos Commodity and Future Exchange (LCFE) and Heritage Bank partnership forum in Lagos, explained that wheat is a political crop both internationally and nationally.

According to him, “Whether you like it or not wheat is a political crop internationally and nationally. The US was our main off-taker of crude oil and the US Government told the Nigerian Government that if the country wants to be self-sufficient in wheat production, there will be a zero exportation of our crude oil to the United States. This was ‘Wheat trap hook’ and it was why the federal government lifted the ban on importation of wheat from the US.”

He stated that the implication of the threat made most farmers who had borrowed loans to boost wheat production in the country to go bankrupt, as they ventured into vegetable, maize and cassava production in order to meet up with their loan obligations.

Olabanji stated that presently, Nigeria imports over $2 billion of wheat into the country on annual basis despite having about 12.2 million hectares of land mass suitable for wheat production.

Lamenting over the nation’s inability to meet its wheat demands, Olabanji stated that Nigeria does not have enough quality seeds to plant on these arable lands, stressing that wheat production is also being threatened by the high level of insecurity in the Northeast.

According to him, “As at 2017, our annual wheat consumption was 350,000 metric tons, but has declined to about 150,000 due to insecurity in most part of the northern parts of the country where it is grown, and inadequate quality seed supply. The $2 billion spent annually to import wheat into the country could be used to develop infrastructure facilities in the country.

“With the intervention of this forum, we are now on the right path to self-sufficiency in wheat production. Our consumption is about 5.2 million metric tons. We need to harness all the available land mass suitable for wheat production to attain self-sufficiency in wheat production.”

Earlier, the Managing Director, LCFE, Mr. Akin Akeredolu-Ale, said the rising cost of food prices is due to the difficulty in the raw commodity production making life very difficult for Nigerians.

He said according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, importation of wheat exceeded local production in Nigeria by 142 per cent which he said has led to steady increase in the cost of bread and pastries due to the hike in price of flour.

The MD added that the step of considering including wheat in the list of the commodity to be banned for accessing foreign exchange would be very beneficial to the economy if well managed, saying Nigeria currently produces less than five per cent of its annual wheat demand putting more pressure on the foreign exchange.

He stated that over 90 per cent of the wheat consumed locally in the country is imported.

On his part, the Divisional Head, Agribusiness, Natural Resources and Project Development, Mr. Olugbenga Awe, said Heritage Bank is continuously working on the multiplication of seeds while also focusing on grains.