By G9ija

Wheat used to produce many staple food items, including bread and biscuit, will soon join the list of items restricted from official forex allocation by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), it was learnt at the weekend.

The implication of this is that any firm that requires imported wheat for its operation will seek alternative source of forex after the imposition of the restriction by the apex bank.

The CBN said at the weekend that $2 billion is spent annually to import wheat, thereby depleting the country’s foreign reserves.

According to the apex bank, only one per cent (about 63,000 metric tonnes) of wheat out of the five to six million metric tonnes (MT) of wheat consumed in Nigeria is produced locally.

To fill the gap, the CBN plans to jump start a massive local production of wheat.

A CBN source said: “Any moment from now, wheat will be added to the forex restriction list”.

The government, the source explained, has imported hybrid wheat seeds for dry season farming as part of efforts to boost local production.

He said the CBN’s arrangement is to put wheat farmers in a position to meet the high demand for the item.

Wheat’s flour is used to make bread, noodles, pasta, biscuits (cookies), semolina and some beverages like wheat beer and Malted milk.

Director, Development Finance Department at the CBN, Mr. Philip Yila Yusuf, told a wheat conference and stakeholders’ engagement in Abuja at the weekend.

“Wheat is the second highest contributor to the country’s food import bill putting pressure on the country’s foreign reserve”.

Rice, which is now on the restriction list, is the highest.

Yusuf said the apex bank’s intervention had become critical due to rising local demand for wheat and the inability to meet that demand.

He said: “The CBN plans to address key problems in the value chain through financing massive production of wheat in Nigeria and seeks to facilitate sustained availability of high yield seed variety in the country and to improve general productivity.

“There was enormous challenge before the CBN, which would require concerted efforts to address.”

He said there was enormous potential in wheat value chain enough to make significant impact in the agricultural sector.

The CBN will focus attention on the wheat value chain for 2021/2022 dry season planting, after sustainable progress made across the rice and maize value chain”.

Other imported agricultural items that gulp a lot of foreign exchange but are on CBN’s Forex restriction list are rice, poultry products and fish.

At the conference, Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, urged the CBN to expedite action on releasing funds, stressing that partnership among stakeholders in wheat production value chains remained critical to boosting Nigeria’s quest to be self-sufficient in wheat production.

Ganduje, who was represented by his deputy, Dr. Nasiru Yusuf Gawuna, appealed to stakeholders to be transparent in their dealings and to commence preparation for both farming and production of wheat.

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Mohammed Abubakar, who was represented by Abdullahi Garba, expressed dismay that the country’s wheat import bills had continued to increase in recent years.

He urged stakeholders to collaborate to reverse the trend by investing more in the value chain.