LAGOS, NIGERIA — Wheat imports to Nigeria in 2018-19 are forecast to rise 4% from the previous year to 5.4 million tonnes, according to a Dec. 18 Global Agricultural Information Network report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA attributed the increase to flour millers’ growing access to foreign exchange to pay for imports.

The increase comes as Nigeria struggles to expand wheat production, which has been stagnant at 60,000 tonnes the last three years.

“Despite growing demand for wheat and higher prices, insecurity (arising from Islamist group Boko Haram) continues to limit access to farmland in Nigeria’s main wheat production areas,” the USDA said. “The average production cost of wheat hovers at roughly $420 per tonne, selling at $600 per tonne in the Sahel region. High production costs are leading farmers and private sector investors to prioritize production for export, where they can obtain higher returns.”

The USDA forecasts Nigeria’s total wheat consumption in 2018-19 to increase 4% from last year’s figure, to 5.06 million tonnes. It attributes the uptick to an increase in imports combined with a rise in food, seed and industrial use.

Nigeria has the largest population (203.4 million) of any African nation. Projections are that it will grow to 392 million by 2050, making it the world’s fourth most populous country.

It is a massive market for wheat flour served by some of the world’s biggest flour milling companies, including Flour Mills of Nigeria, Honeywell Flourmills and Dangote Flour Mills.