A burgeoning global demand for sesame seed for hummus, toppings on sushi, health foods and confectionery, is boosting output in Nigeria and spurring expansion in the world’s third-biggest producer.
Production of the tiny seeds, easily recognizable on bread rolls, is expected to grow 40 percent in Nigeria in the 2017-18 season, according to Sheriff Balogun, president of the National Sesame Seed Association of Nigeria.
While current output ranges between 400,000 metric tons and 500,000 tons per season, “we should see a production of about 700,000 tons” with this year’s harvest, he said in an emailed response to questions, reports news agency Bloomberg.
Japan, with its sushi culture, is the leading destination of Nigerian sesame seed exports, according to Balogun, who said many farmers are responding to growing global demand to increase production of the grain. Other destinations include China as well as Europe and North America.
Africa’s most populous country of more than 180 million inhabitants and top oil producer is pushing for increased agricultural production and exports as part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s plan to steer the country away from dependence on hydrocarbons. Nigeria fell into its worst economic slump in 25 years in 2016 after the output and price of oil, its main export, plunged.
The government has pledged a N5 billion ($14 million) funding support to help growers increase their farms and obtain improved seeds, according to Balogun.“We have a five-year development plan which seeks to increase production to about two million tons per year by 2022,” he said.
Rising global demand is estimated to outstrip output, currently estimated at more than six million tons per year, by 10 percent in 2018 “due to the adverse climatic conditions in major producing and exporting countries,” according to Jaison Davis, the lead agriculture analyst at Hyderabad, India-based Mordor Intelligence.
Demand is being boosted by increasing use of sesame seed in confectionery and preference of its oils for presumed “health benefits,” he said.
More farmers are adopting the crop because they see its export as a means of earning foreign exchange at a time Nigeria’s local currency has depreciated against the dollar, according to Lateef Adekoya, a local buying-agent based in Lagos, the commercial capital. Farm-gate prices have risen 20 percent in the past year to N275,000 per ton, he said.
Sesame seed is currently Nigeria’s top raw agricultural export, while cocoa, which is classified separately because of initial processing, remains the leading non-oil export, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The crop, which is drought-resistant, grows in the country’s arid north and much of its central grasslands.