Nigeria imports large quantities of grain to feed its big population. Wheat is important to the diet of many Nigerians, but the country is dependent on imports to produce the wheat flour, pasta and other products consumers require.

The International Grains Council (IGC) puts Nigeria’s total grains production in 2018-19 at 19.1 million tonnes, up from 18.9 million the year before. The figure includes an unchanged 11 million tonnes of corn and 6.5 million of sorghum, up from the previous year’s 6.3-million-tonne crop.

Total imports of grains in Nigeria (which comprises wheat and coarse grains) are forecast at 5.6 million tonnes in 2018-19, up from 5.5 million the year before. Most of the country’s imports are wheat, with imports forecast unchanged at 5.2 million tonnes. Nigeria is also forecast to import 110,000 tonnes of durum wheat, up from 100,000 in 2017-18. The IGC puts Nigeria’s rice crop in 2018 unchanged at 3.8 million tonnes, with rice imports also at 3 million tonnes, up from 2.4 million the previous year.

In an update issued on Dec. 18, the USDA’s attaché in Nigeria forecast the country’s 2018-19 wheat imports at 5.4 million tonnes, up from a figure of 5.2 million the year before, attributing the increase to “millers’ greater access to foreign exchange.”

“Food import bans are the cornerstone of the Nigerian government’s agricultural development and food security agenda,” the update noted. “Nigeria imposes a 10% tariff and a 60% levy (totaling 70%) on imported rice (arriving by sea), when it authorizes the import.

The attaché also said there is a ban on rice imports through land borders, but that it is difficult to control. The attaché’s forecast for Nigerian rice imports in 2018-19 is 2.5 million tonnes, up from 2 million in 2017-18.

The official ban on rice imports through land borders remains but is reportedly difficult to control. Post forecasts Nigeria’s rice imports in MY 2018-19 at 2.5 million tonnes, up 25% compared with the MY 2017-18 figure of 2 million tonnes.

In an annual report on the Nigerian grains sector, published in April, the USDA said Nigeria’s animal feed sector has attracted local and foreign investment over the previous five years and is expected to remain the country’s leading grain user.

“Analysts project Nigeria’s poultry meat consumption will increase 10 times by 2040, assuming moderate feed costs, while domestic poultry production is expected to increase by 8 billion eggs and 100 million kilograms of poultry meat per annum,” the report said.

The report also points out that Nigeria’s annual consumption of fish is estimated at 2 million tonnes, with more than 20% coming from land-based aquaculture.

The attaché did not expect grain production in Nigeria to expand significantly.

“Nigeria grain producers are predominantly subsistence farmers with very limited financial resources and access to inputs and storage facilities,” the report said. “Moreover, increasing production costs for farming inputs such as fertilizers, labor and agro-chemicals have continued to limit the size and scope of the farms.

“Nigeria continues to employ trade restrictive measures, including high tariffs, forex control, levies and import bans, and other measures to protect its domestic agricultural production, despite the country’s membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Levies imposed on essential grains (rice, corn and wheat), as well as restrictive import permits limit grain imports.”

The country also has problems with conflict affecting grain supplies.

“The Boko Haram (BH) insurgencies and the pastoralist-farmers conflicts in the northeast and north-central regions of Nigeria have continued to escalate,” the attaché said. “Consequently, population displacement, trade restrictions, limited market access, and an influx of refugees, especially in the northeast region, have continued to cause severe acute food insecurity in the areas.”

Over 2 million people in the region are now depending on food assistance, the report said.

“Although FAO and other humanitarian agents are supporting the farmer-dominated population, mainly with fertilizer and seeds for vegetable and rice production, fears of attacks have continued to constrain access to farms in the regions,” the attaché said.

Flour milling

In a report on supply chain management in the food and beverage industry in Nigeria, Dr. M.E. Njoku of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, and Kalu Alexanda of Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, point out that “only four companies (Honeywell Flour Mills Plc, Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc, Northern Nigeria Flour Mills Plc and Lafarage Dangote Flour Mills Plc) control 50% of the entire flour milling market. The 22 mills in the country are owned by 11 companies. They recommend that “Production firms, most especially the flour millers, should integrate their supply chain management operations efficiently in such a way that it enhances their sales and profitability.”

The attaché puts Nigeria’s domestic wheat production at around 60,000 tonnes.

“Locally produced wheat is not economically suitable for milling wheat flour for producing bread, spaghetti, etc., consumed in Nigeria’s urban areas,” the report said. “Traditionally, Nigeria’s wheat is mostly utilized for specialized local meals consumed mostly in northern Nigeria and the neighboring Sahel countries.”

The highly urbanized nature of Nigeria’s population, with more than half the country’s residents living in urban areas, contributes to demand for wheat products.

“Bread, semolina, pasta and other wheat products remain major staples in Nigeria,” the report said. “Generally, consumers’ incomes have remained low and wheat products such as bread, doughs, noodles and spaghetti, are also expected to remain readily available and affordable in the more populated urban areas.”

The report also explains that compared to major domestic staples such as “garri” (a local cassava product), millet, yam, plantain and others, bread and pasta are more convenient and less expensive staples in Nigeria.”

Rice consumption

Consumers prefer imported rice from Thailand and India to the Nigerian product, according to the attaché.

“Nigeria’s increasing rice consumption is mostly driven by population growth, increasing urbanization as well as substitution away from traditional coarse grains,” the report said. “The consumption of traditional cereals, mainly sorghum and millet, has dropped significantly, and their share in cereals used as food also decreased, while the share of rice consumed has grown over the last four decades.”

A report published by Food Business Africa on Jan. 9 bemoaned the amount spent by Nigeria on imports of grains in 2018.

“The country spent $1.1 billion to import 5.5 million tonnes of wheat in the period as production remained static at 60,000 tonnes, which constituted 99% of wheat consumed,” Food Business Africa said. “Rice imports amounted to 3 million tonnes, equivalent to 44% of rice consumed in the country valued at $1.2 billion, while domestic production rose to 4.78 million tonnes in 2018.”

The 400,000 tonnes of corn imported cost $146.8 million, Food Business Africa said.

The report also said there were 21 large integrated rice mills running, with a total capacity of 1.22 million tonnes yearly. Owners of rice mills include Dangote, Stallion Group, Olam, Milan, Golden Penny Rice and Wicklow Group.

“Nigeria seems to have become a massive market for wheat, serving some flour milling companies such as Flour Mills of Nigeria, Honeywell Flour Mills and Dangote Flour Mills as they prefer to import the grain where they can obtain higher returns,” the report said.

According to a summary published by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, an annual report by the attaché in Nigeria on biotechnology told readers that “recent campaigns/activities of some anti-biotech groups are beginning to negate earlier positive perceptions of Nigerian consumers about genetically engineered (GE) products.”

“GE promoters in Nigeria will need to engage Nigerians through sustained promotional outreaches espousing the benefits of biotechnology to negate anti-GE campaigns,” the FAS said. “Bt Cowpea, Bt Cotton, Africa Bio-fortified Sorghum and Nitrogen Use Efficient, Water Use Efficient and Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) Rice are already at different stages of field and confined field trials in Nigeria.”