Corrupt management of N8.85 billion Federal Government-approved budget for wheat by the Ministry of Agriculture is stunting the development of the crop, leading to rising import bills currently estimated at N250 billion per annum, according to the most recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics.
BusinessDay checks on wheat budget between 2016 and 2018 show that while there is growth in budgetary allocation for wheat, there is a decline in wheat production.
In 2016, for instance, a total of N1.75 billion was budgeted for wheat development. This increased to N4.05 billion in 2017, but fell to N3.52 billion last year. But compared with 2016, the 2018 figure represents 75 percent rise.
However, wheat farmers churned out less than 300,000 metric tonnes nationwide at the end of 2017/2018 farming season. That represents over 52 percent decline from 625,000 metric tonnes during 2016/2017 season and 25 percent drop from 400,000 in 2015/2016, said Oluwasina Olabanji, executive director, Lake Chad Research Institute.
Impeccable sources familiar with budget matters in Agric Ministry told BusinessDay that a couple of top government functionaries who should champion the implementation of projects allotted to these funds have only sat on it and are likely to have engaged in a sharing spree among themselves, with the minister of agriculture hardly showing any interest in what has been happening to the growth or decline of wheat sector.
“Someone is frustrating the wheat programme,” the source said. “One director and two consecutive permanent secretaries who ran the show between 2016 and third quarter of 2018 know how they have spent that money budgeted for wheat. The person in charge of wheat knew about how the wheat money has been spent in two consecutive wheat growing seasons.”
The source said the director in charge of Federal Department of Agriculture should shed light on what happened to the money because wheat programme is under his portfolio.
“People are lobbying not to move from that ministry,” the source added.
Asked about the landing points of these funds, Amin Babandi, director at the Federal Department of Agriculture, was evasive throughout a phone interview, saying questions should be channelled to the ministry’s state director in Lagos.
“I don’t want to answer those questions now. But let me advise you. In each of the states we have a director from the ministry. So the way you found my number, try and find the number of who is the state director for Lagos. The state director knows everything and will link you up with whoever is meant to answer,” he said.
“We have never, ever received any intervention from the Federal Government of Nigeria except during the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) programme under Goodluck Jonathan, when seeds were distributed to farmers,” said Salim Saleh, president, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN).
“Since it stopped, nothing like intervention came to wheat farming,” Saleh added.
There are insinuations that in the past three years, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture has unusually concentrated on procurement issues, which suggests a widening window for outflow of funds without execution of projects that truly impact the agricultural sector. This means so many funds have gone into irrelevant projects.
Under the 2016 budget, a N4.2 million provision was made for foundation seeds, tagged ‘on-going project’. For certified seeds, the Agric Ministry budgeted N154 million. It also devoted N66 million for inorganic fertiliser and N78.7 million for procurement of 400 multipurpose threshers at N650,000 each. Support for 187,500 farmers was said to cost N1.3 billion while the development of high-yielding varieties of wheat and barley was budgeted at N93.5 million.
Again in 2017 budget, N2.6 billion was budgeted for promotion and development of wheat value chain, among other projects such as supply of agro-processing equipment, multi-purpose thresher, reapers, rice/wheat de-stoners, dryers and maize harvesters valued at N1 billion.
Similarly, under the 2018 approved budget of the ministry, N2.6 billion was tied to the development of wheat value chain pegged on-going. Research for seed multiplication and mini seed increase for wheat alongside soybean, groundnut, and cowpea was a new project requiring N15.2 million.
Development of high-yielding heat-tolerant and good quality varieties of wheat and barley; development of early-maturing and high-yielding millet varieties with good processing quality and development of the capacity of scientists, farmers and extension officers in wheat and millet production, processing and storage were said to cost N226 million.
A total of N106 million was devoted to wheat value chain development training.
The only government support to wheat farmers in recent time has been the Anchor Borrowers Programme, which is a CBN initiative to push the government’s agricultural diversification agenda. It was only received towards the end of 2018.
“Could the CBN project have sprouted because the Ministry of Agriculture was failing to deliver?” an analyst asked.
Wheat farmers received inputs such as seed and fertilisers, farm machineries (threshers, water pumps) and support for research and development from Flour Millers Association of Nigeria (FMAN) in 2018.
Nigeria’s failure to move up its ranking as 18th on the world index of wheat production comes as a paradox.
When world leader by yield, New Zealand, achieved a record 10 metric tonnes per hectare and African counterpart, Egypt, had 6.6 metric tonnes per hectare, Nigeria’s wheat production yield has been a struggle between 2.1 and 2.5 tonnes per hectare.
Wheat consumption is projected to hit 5 million metric tonnes during the 2018/19 period, a 5 percent increase over last year. Countries with 3.1 tonnes yield per hectare, including the United States and Russia, are prepared to exploit that opportunity.
There are fears that the country’s wheat import expenditure could double by 2025.
In a recent letter to FMAN, Olabanji highlighted the clog in the wheel of wheat production and self-sufficiency in Nigeria, saying political will and commitment of government’s intensive interventions were lacking in the commodity once identified as a priority crop in Nigeria.
He noted also that reduction in the total area put into wheat cultivation in the wheat-growing states was another bane contributing to the production decline.
The troubling question among stakeholders, therefore, is the whereabouts of these funds since the only body of wheat farmers in the country cannot point to projects benefitted from any government intervention during these periods, either in the form of finance, subsidy of farming implements, improved seed breed or mechanisation equipment.