Africa’s most populous country is currently the largest maize producer in Africa and its export capacity for the grain is still low as the country does not grow enough to meet local demand.
Maize is the leading cereal grown in Nigeria and it provides millions of jobs for the people, as it can be cultivated in all states of the country. It serves as a key input in many manufacturing companies and the poultry industry. About 60 per cent of Nigeria’s maize is used for the production of poultry feed, 25 per cent is used up by the food and beverage industry, and the remaining is consumed by households, according to industry experts.
Currently, in Nigeria, the bulk of the grain produced is under the rain-fed system. The planting season starts in mid-March through mid-June yearly – March/April in the south and May/June in the north. The crop matures within three to four months after planting. Despite its short gestation period, there has been a critical imbalance in the demand and supply of maize in Nigeria for several years now, as the production of the crop is not growing as fast as the country’s population.
Data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) showed that Nigeria records the least yield per hectare among its peers. For maize, which is the most consumed grain on the continent, Nigeria’s yield per hectare is 1.6MT on average despite being the largest grower of the crop while South Africa’s average yield is 6MT per hectare.
Smallholder farmers in Africa’s most populous country have limited access to improved maize seeds. Lack of technology and poor farm practices have made yield per hectare for the crop remain perpetually low, thus, leading to high production costs and making the sector unattractive to the younger population.
Closing the maize supply-demand gap in Africa’s biggest economy requires concerted efforts by players across the value chain.
At the core of this effort is the need to accelerate awareness and widespread use of improved, disease-resistant maize seed varieties that can resist fall armyworm infestation and tackle weed management, thereby boosting yield per hectare.
Bayer Nigeria Limited, a subsidiary of Bayer AG Germany, a leader in crop science, is supporting Africa’s most populous country to improve its food security by helping smallholder farmers boost their productivity through its annual Nigeria Maize Conference since 2018.
Country Sales manager, Bayer Nigeria Limited, Temitope Banjo during the annual Maize conference, said “Since the inception of the Nigeria Maize Conference in 2018 it has become a form of convergence for stakeholders in the maize industry and the program has brought insight on how to develop the industry in the country.”
Recently, the fourth edition themed ‘Much More Maize 2.0’ coming on the heels of the 2021 edition, farmers and stakeholders at the conference were exposed to sustainable farming practices that will help them increase their maize harvest, boost the country’s output, and reaffirm Bayer’s commitment to Nigeria’s food security drive.
He said, “What we do at Bayer is to chat out ways on how to keep the business profitable. Our objective is to improve people’s lives by concentrating on key areas to boost maize productivity.”
According to him, the country has made significant progress in maize production since the conference kick-started and this year’s edition will foster more impact.
“Nigeria is now Africa’s largest maize producer followed by South Africa and Egypt, also the country’s production increased from 12.8 million metric tons in 2020 to 13.94 million metric tons in 2021.
He added that there is still room for improvement to close the demand gap and meet the domestic and industrial needs of the country.
President of Maize Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Dr. Abubakar Bello, said “The relationship between the Maize Association of Nigeria and Bayer has boosted maize production in the country as the organization continues to train farmers on good agronomy practices which he said has helped boost local production.
“The organization usually organizes pre-season training to take farmers on fresher courses and also introduce new technology. All this has been impacting productivity and it has helped us battle pests and weeds.”
Industry stakeholders also noted that smallholder farmers must begin to grow maize all year-round using irrigation to boost production and meet the ever-growing demand while also increasing the adoption of hybrid maize and carrying out effective weed management control.
Professor Friday Ekeleme from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture said weeds have remained a major threat to increased maize productivity in Nigeria and the entire African continent, saying the continent’s grain yields remain below the global average.
Ekeleme noted maize weed management is a welcome development, saying regular training would build capacities and help in improving farmers’ knowledge of good farming practices such as record keeping, weed management, and safe use of herbicides.
Meanwhile, governments, maize producer/user associations and other relevant stakeholders across the maize value chain must recognize the importance of maize in industrial production, household nutrient needs and generation of export earnings. Efforts should therefore be geared towards ramping up production to meet domestic needs and exporting.