As industrial demand for sorghum continues to mount, the strength of Nigeria’s sorghum production has come under crucial delivery tests which it appears to find overwhelming.
More users are earnestly shifting attention to the local market, away from high-cost grains to the less expensive sorghum flour foods, and as such food, starch and industrial (FSI) consumption projections have grown from 6.3 million tonnes recorded the previous year to about 6.6 million tonnes.
The optimism is strong among many sorghum growers that the country could ramp up production not only to fix local demands but grab its share of the international export revenue. However, rising social uncertainties in growing regions leave much in doubt as poor mechanization, accessibility of improved hybrid seed variety, and the most inimical threat of resurging terrorist attacks top the list of encumbrances in the way of raising output targets of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, beyond the 12.5 million thresholds.
Sorghum, a drought-resistant grain used in the food and brewing industry, as well as livestock feed is cultivated mainly in the northern states of Bauchi, Borno, Zamfara Yobe, Gombe, Adamawa, Kaduna, Jigawa, Niger, Kebbi, Taraba, Plateau, Sokoto, Katsina, and Nasarawa but in the wake of renewed insurgency attacks, farmers have been rendered short of land for cultivation, a fundamental destabilising factor to shoring up production.
Sanusi Gulya, Sorghum Millet Association of Nigeria, SMAN secretary affirmed that growers in the northeast areas have been displaced and were beginning to target new forest areas for cultivation.
“Most of our sorghum activities are within the areas attacked by terrorists. We left thousands of hectares where sorghum is produced at a very large cheaper rate because up there you can plant without issues in Gamboru, Gala, Baga and other areas. We have left with many internally displaced farmers in Kano. There is fierce competition from herdsmen and houses sprouting all around the place. We are left with no option than to go and activate some forest,” he explained.
The challenge he believes may not compare to the mechanisation gap shrouding the production processes as preponderant use of manual soil tilling remain the practice due to the dearth of adequate farm implements. Like many other crops, sorghum yields are reduced by the low availability of improved seeds which pares yields per hectare.
“The variety of sorghum we are using is of low yield but we are trying to bring in improved and high yield seeds. An average yield of sorghum is about two tonnes per hectare. We are not trying to intimate farmers with varieties which can yield up to 10 tonnes,” Gulya said.
A handful of local industrials, including flour mills like Honeywell, he said, have expressed high interest in off-take yields but the challenges have prevented them from satisfying their demands. These hiccups were also attributed to why the farmers lost out on the opportunity to benefit from the trade turf China and the United States as Chinese importers seeking alternative sources of sorghum found Nigeria incapable filling the gap.
Although private sector partnership with the farmers in the area of implement provision is expected to yield increased production to meet their raw material needs, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), growers are still largely impeded.
According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) estimate on mechanization gap, increasing the mechanisation rate in Nigeria will require at least triple its current stock of machinery over the same period. In addition to raising production, adequately increasing mechanisation has the capacity to raise yields to increase labour productivity, increase income generation and deepen import substitution.
To attract the required investment, the government needs to create an enabling environment that ensures mechanization is profitable. In terms of priorities, the government should concentrate on addressing challenges around land tenure and ownership, providing rural infrastructure and extension services and ensuring incentives are transparent are accessible to all investors.
Oyeleye Adeleke, the special adviser to the minister of agriculture who regretted that the government has been unable to nip the menace of insurgency in the bud said the ministry was currently pushing the idea of sorghum cultivation outside the northern shores using improved breeds.
“The issue of insurgency goes beyond the ministry of agriculture. That really has to first of all be tackled so that farmers can be back to the field and the northeast in particular has a greater competitive advantage in terms of sorghum production so that the farmers themselves can get back to business. Secondly, it would have been easier if the common variety of sorghum can be cultivated under irrigation. The varieties being planted in the north is usually being planted in the dry season and does not really require irrigation to do well,” he said.
Gulya, however, said farmers at association level were mobilising the youthful class of farmers with the technology inclination to build a reliable farming database. Though he noted that the only intervention from the government was Central Bank’s Anchors Borrower’s Scheme and the Accelerated Agricultural Development Scheme (AABS), efforts are targeted at tripling production by 2021.
He said: “We are currently undertaking a programmer with CBN Anchors Borrowers’ Scheme (ABS) and we are hoping to improve production between now and 2021. Looking at the number of farmers who are growing sorghum their current yields, in three years time, the story will be different. We hope to triple the current yield by then. There is a programme under accelerated agricultural development scheme (AABS) under the federal government in conjunction with state government are trying to open up farm land to accommodate about 20,000 yields for mostly cultivation of maize and sorghum. We are trying to start with 1,000 farmers between 18 and 35 years of age and 9,000 for maize production.”