As Nigeria’s population rapidly grows to make it the third-largest country in the world by 2050, according to the UN, demand has also been increasing for high-protein, high-quality Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat for food products.
“The high-protein segment of the Nigerian market that was once (dominated by) U.S. wheat was completely replaced by CWRS in the last several years,” says Esey Assefaw, head of Asian products and pasta technology at the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi). “The remainder of the wheat needed by this market is from the U.S. and Black Sea region (Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan) and is medium to low protein.”
In 2016-17, Nigeria imported nearly 822,000 tonnes of CWRS — the highest in the last five years — in addition to 31,500 tonnes of Canada Western Amber Durum (CWAD), and smaller amounts of Canada Western Red Winter and Canada Northern Hard Red totalling 17,000 tonnes.
About 17 per cent of Nigerian wheat imports are currently from Canada, says Yvonne Supeene, Cigi’s head of baking technology. As a high-protein wheat, CWRS is primarily used for blending with lesser-quality wheats. “Bread is the main wheat-based end-product but pasta, rice and noodles are also eaten. This is a growing market for western Canadian wheat and the potential is huge.”
Supeene and Assefaw were part of a Cigi technology team that also included Norbert Cabral, acting head of Cigi milling technology, who visited Lagos, Nigeria, in March. While there, a technical workshop and seminar were held for customers on the fundamentals of CWRS quality related to milling, baking, and the processing of noodles and pasta.
The session participants represented 85 per cent of the market and other wheat classes such as CWAD and Canada Prairie Spring Red were also showcased, says Assefaw. He notes that pasta processing is the fastest-growing food manufacturing sector of the Nigerian market. “Although CWAD is used for pasta, price sensitivity in this market may also provide an opportunity for other wheat classes such as CPSR.”
Assefaw says another common Nigerian product for which CWAD may also have potential use is semovita, a starchy food made of wheat or white wheat, cooked into a paste and eaten with soups.
Supeene says bakers in Nigeria face challenges such as extreme heat and rudimentary processing methods. The marketplace does not have large industrialized bakeries and the infrastructure does not support wide distribution of bread products. “The baking industry is completely different from North America. There are about 90,000 small bakeries, mixing is done by hand, and bread is produced mainly for a local market.
“Customers depend on the high-protein, high-quality and strong gluten characteristics of CWRS to help overcome any processing challenges,” she says. “Improvements have been made to the CWRS class in the last few years and that quality and consistency needs to be maintained.”
Cigi began meeting with customers in West Africa several years ago and last December presented new crop seminars with a Canadian industry team in Nigeria and Ghana. The most recent technical visit to Nigeria was formalized at that time and more visits to this growing market are expected in future.
“It’s important that we maintain a presence in Nigeria,” says Assefaw. “Even though Russian wheat quality is inconsistent compared to CWRS, customers are getting used to it and may find ways to manage it. U.S. wheat was replaced by CWRS so we can’t take this market for granted. Ongoing technical support to this market is needed to maintain relationships so Nigeria will continue to buy from Canada.”