Alhaji Baba Gana Zanna was the executive secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) between 1988 and 1995. In this interview he spoke on some of the reasons wheat farmers are facing daunting challenges.
When you were in charge of Lake Chad Basin Commission, growing wheat was popular, what do you think is the problem of wheat growing in the country now?
When there was a boom in wheat production from 1989 to 1992/1993, the government had given protection to wheat farmers, banning the importation of wheat, and farmers were getting good prices for the produce. Flour millers had no choice but to buy from the farmers, so when the farmers produced, there was already a market. Government, at that time, gave a lot of assistance to farmers, including irrigation facilities. As you know, wheat is grown during the dry season.
But when the ban was lifted, the imported wheat was coming in and local production was no longer competitive. It’s all about giving the right incentive to farmers and guaranteeing them a market and economic price for their produce.
Don’t you think that if the ban is enforced again, some of these problems facing wheat cultivation would be addressed?
Before you go into that (enforcing the ban) you have to ensure that the country has an in-house capacity for meeting the demands for wheat locally. Can you ensure that?
Sincere efforts must be made to encourage the farmers to produce more locally. Look at the structure to see how the farmers can be encouraged for local production to pick, then you can start applying some brakes on importation. As such production is sustained, you can now impose or reduce what you would allow to be imported
Apart from enforcing ban on wheat import, what do you think can be done to help in growing the produce?
You have to come up with incentives to encourage farmers to grow; and this also applies to other crops. You have to move away from this sort of subsistence and low-level farming. What we need to do is to get better seeds, fertilizer, provide irrigation facilities and introduce mechanisation of sort. All these are things you can put in place. These are medium-term goals. You can do it in a year or two so that you will reach a reasonable production level. Obviously, that is where the price will be competitive. Without improving your own yield and quality, it is difficult for the farmers to be competitive.