Nigeria Seeks to Boost Wheat Output and Cut Imports by Half

Nigeria plans to boost its wheat output and cut imports by half by 2017 as farmers ramp up production of two new strains that thrive well in warmer climates, according to the country’s Lake Chad Research Institute.

Two wheat varieties released to farmers since 2014 can produce from 3.5 metric tons to 6.5 tons per hectare (2.471-acres) and could grow with rain water or irrigation, Oluwasina Olabanji, executive director of the institute based in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, said in an e-mailed response to questions on Monday. Previous strains had maximum output per hectare of 4 tons for irrigated farms and 2.5 tons per hectare for those using rain water.

“I hope that by 2017, our production will hit 1.5 million metric tons and reduce importation by 50 percent,” said Olabanji. “This is our target and is achievable. Annual wheat production should grow at 20 percent from 2017.”

Africa’s biggest economy and most populous country of about 180 million people imported 3.8 million tons of wheat in the 2013-2014, most of it from the U.S., with demand projected to increase in 2014-2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Wheat futures for December delivery dropped 1.3 percent to $5.01 a bushel in Chicago.

Though wheat is a temperate crop, the rain-fed variety grows in highland areas of the West African country, such as Mambilla and Obudu to the east, and Jos Plateau in the center. The crop also thrives with irrigated farming in most of northern Nigeria from mid-November to mid-March, when temperatures are from 15 to 25 degrees centigrade, according to the Lake Chad Institute.

The institute plans to release two new varieties of wheat with better yields by 2017, said Olabanji. These include an irrigated strain with potential yields of 7 to 8 tons per hectare and a rain-fed type that could yield 5 to 6 tons per hectare, he said.

Set up in 1975, the research institute has responsibility for the genetic improvement of grains such as wheat, barley and millet.

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