Alhaji Jibrin K. Bukar is the National President, National Sunflower Growers Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria. In this interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, he said the world had resorted to Nigeria in search of sunflower products, especially the oil, which is regarded as the second best after olive in terms of health benefits and the fourth most consumed internationally due to the current war between Ukraine and Russia. Except:
By Vincent A, Yusuf, Hafsat Hayatudeen & Ummaima Yakubu
The crisis between Russia and Ukraine, which are major suppliers of sunflower oil and seed, has thrown global supply in turmoil. What are you doing, as a country, to scale up production?
Global supply is down because other countries that are even producing have also restricted export, taking into cognizance that Ukraine, which is the major producer, produces over 57 per cent of the global production of the sunflower. It is now left for Nigeria to capitalize on that, take advantage of what is happening, because as we speak, many countries have been calling and asking for tons, not only the seeds but also the oil. I remember very well somebody asking me “Can I get 40 containers of 40 feet each, every month?” I told him no, we cannot at the moment. So, it’s something the government should capitalize on, especially the federal ministry of agriculture, to support farmers produce in mass, while the federal ministry of industry should also provide all the necessary support, in the processing aspect and the marketing. The Bank of Industry is also key, and we hope that they will do their part because it is one of the crops that is very vital to human health. If we can flood the Nigerian market with sunflower oil, it will increase the health statue of our people because of its medicinal benefit. Therefore, it is key for Nigeria to capitalize on that.
If you look at most of the states, there are potentials for this crop. How are you mobilizing farmers to buy in? Do you also have enough seeds to scale up production?
We do not have problems with the seed because we are working with the Institute for Agriculture Research Samaru, who has the national mandate for genetic improvement of sunflower in Nigeria. So, we have no problem with seed. The most important thing is for the farmers to join us in its production. Moreover, their only way of coming is through the sensitization that is currently going on and then, encouragement from respective state governments.
State governments should also come in because they are closer to the farmers. If they agree, they will benefit more because it will also add value to what they are doing. The state ministries of agriculture as well as that of commerce and industry are key. If they join hands, establish clusters for them like what they did with the groundnut clusters; it will be fine. We would flood Nigerian market with sunflower and the health status of our people will improve.
What about having an arrangement or getting processors, companies who can come in or even at least get the CBN to get anchor?
Well, we have been working with the CBN. Unfortunately, this year I am aware that the CBN has not been able to release anything to the commodities, talk less of sunflower. They have not released any kobo or input to any commodities and so, sunflower cannot be an exception. However, we are working with the Bank of Industry on it, but the nitty-gritty is so hectic in the processing aspect, coupled with the fact that most of our members – the farmers, do not have the collateral security.
The bank should be able to shelve the security aspect so that they can give loans to members of the association or to any processor who wants to process sunflowers into, not only the oil but, other value-added products such as body cream, soap, shampoo and so on because it has a lot of value chain products.
Now, what is the future like for sunflower farming in Nigeria?
The future is very bright because sunflower is one of the easiest crops to manage. Once you are able to plant it properly, following the best agronomy practices, you get the maximum yield out of it and if you are able to weed it once, you are done. It is not like maize, rice and so on.
Is it a seasonal crop?
It is an all-year crop provided you can have irrigation facility. Countries like Kenya, Tanzania cultivate and produce it about 2-3 times a year.
What happens if a company wants to go into processing sunflower?
Fine, that is what we want. It depends on how they want the arrangement to be. We are not rich enough to use the resources we have to produce what companies want but with proper arrangement, and support to the farmers, the sky will be the springboard.
How many farmers are producing at the moment?
We have not less than 120,000 farmers.
Is there potential for growing this crop down south?
Of course, as we speak it is being grown in Bayelsa, especially in the dry season because now is rainy season and sunflower will not grow in water logged area. Even up north, it will not grow where there is so much water.
As an association, have you approached any company that largely produces sunflower, oil, to have some backward integration?
Yes, we are working on that. We are also discussing with companies within the country that are into oil production such as Grand Cereal in Jos, Sun seeds in Zaria and others.
What has been their response?
Grand cereal has even collected the sample of seed we have in Nigeria. They are working on it, they want to analyze it, they want to see the oil content and if there is advice to offer, we are waiting for them.
If you are to speak to the minister of agriculture and the federal government regarding sunflower, what exactly would you tell them?
What we want the federal ministry of agriculture and royal development to do is to embrace the production of sunflower because of its health benefit to our people. It should be embraced like any other crop if not more. Each crop has its own potential.
This is a new crop; therefore, the government should embrace it very seriously, fund its promotion, make it a project so that everyone would know what sunflower is about. The sensitization by our association is not sufficient enough. We need more publicity.
What does the crop specifically require if one wants to go into it?
Just like any other crop, you need good seed and land. Land preparation is also key because you have to know the importance of that. There should be land testing and so on, to determine if sunflower can be produced there.
What about someone who wants to grow it, can he approach the association?
Of course, why not? A lot of people have been coming, some have not even registered, they just call to say they need seed and we try as much as possible to give them the seed (not free anyway).