24 February 2019
Sesame seed is considered Nigeria’s second largest agro export earner, with the potential of generating billions of naira in foreign exchange yearly, if given the necessary attention it deserves.It is a cash crop with wide varieties in Africa. It is one of the oldest oilseed crops, with one of the highest oil contents of any seed. With a rich, nutty flavour, it is a common ingredient in cuisines across the world.
Based on its colour, it is classified into the white and brown varieties. The white grain (Food Grade) is used by bakeries for pastry garnishing and salad, while the brown grain, often referred to as the oil grade, is used in the production of sesame oil.
The commodity is cultivated in 24 countries in the continent-Sudan, Guinea, Morocco, Togo, Gambia, Cameroon, Cote d’ivoire, Angola, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Benin, Kenya, Mozambique, Mali, Chad, Egypt, Central Africa Republic, Somalia, Burkina Faso, Niger, Uganda and Nigeria.
Nigeria is the second largest producer in Africa after Sudan, and the third largest in the world, with about 580,000 tonnes produced in 2017. In the first quarter of 2018, it was the most exported non-oil commodity, contributing 0.57 per cent to the total export value and 36.39 per cent of agricultural exports.
The recent merchandise trade intensity index analysis released by Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2016, shows that sesame seeds worth N6.46b was exported during the period, representing 39.4 per cent of agricultural exports between October and November 2016.Sesame presents huge opportunities for the country in terms of generating export revenue. Aside the fact that it has numerous health and industrial benefits and widely used for baking, medicine, cosmetics and animal feeds, it also has high oil content of about 44–60 per cent.
The National President, Association of Sesame Farmers of Nigeria, Mutairu Mamudu, confirmed to The Guardian that the commodity has higher financial benefits.It is cultivated majorly in the northern part of the country, in states like Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Nassarawa, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Abuja. Jigawa is considered the highest area of production, followed by Benue.
The Guardian learnt from stakeholders that considering its health benefits and the growing preference for organic foods, the demand is likely to continue to grow, which is positive for Nigeria.Reports have it that the global demand for the commodity is expected to grow at 4.2 per cent compound annual growth rate between 2018-2024, which Nigeria is expected to key-into, considering its land mass, coupled with the fact that sesame is also drought-resistant and requires little or no fertilizer, which makes it cheaper to cultivate.
It was gathered that for the country to take advantage of these opportunities, enhance its competitiveness and maximize the potentials, it needs to focus on improving processing and yields.Processing, The Guardian learnt has being a major challenge confronting the sesame seed industry in the country, as 90 per cent of the produce is taken outside for processing. Mamudu, who identifies colonial mentality and finance as hindrance to availability of processing plants, said government is also not helping the farmers, as there are no incentives to boost their ego.
“From the beginning, there is colonial mentality, they want our raw materials and after the processing abroad, they’ll return it at exorbitant price and that is what they do to most of the agricultural produce from Africa,” Mamudu said.He said: “The second thing is finance and technical-know how. To establish sesame oil company is a capital-intensive project and the process of obtaining loan from banks will always discourage one. We don’t have the system where you’ll submit the feasibility study of your project and get approval within the shortest time.
“Another thing is that awareness on the consumption of sesame oil is still very low. It has more benefits than vegetable oil, but people don’t know this. Those who are actually consuming this oil are outside Nigeria and you know they will always hide their technology; they have not given us the right technology. Even if we are processing it here, they’ll say the ones processed in Africa is not produced under conducive environment.”
Mamudu stressed that another major challenge is the fact that the commodity is still cultivated at the peasantry level. “While the number of sesame farmers are increasing based on the fact that the crop has a higher financial benefits, like a 100kg being sold for N40, 000 is seen as the motivating factor encouraging more farmers into the business, there is no standard incentive from the government. Although we are still pushing on, maybe on the long run, they’ll give us the necessary backing.”
Executive Director, National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Prof. Mohammed Khalid Othman said factors hindering processing of the cash crop are-lack of appropriate infrastructure in terms of processing equipment and facilities; and non-availability of steady power and high cost of alternative (private) power supply. “In Nigeria, sesame has remained a popular cash crop among farmers due to its good local and international market potentials. A pilot project undertaken jointly by the National Sesame Seeds Association and the First Bank of Nigeria in 2007 to increase sesame production and utilisation for economic empowerment in the northern states revealed that sesame seeds farming can provide one million jobs and earn $1.5b for the northern states, thereby empowering the people of the region economically.
“With the right investment in processing plants, the earning will be a minimum of 300 per cent of the $1.5b from production. Additionally, there will be direct employment generation, rural development, enhanced rural income and improved livelihoods of farming households. “This will be a far departure from the national earning of $798.05m from sesame seeds in 2012. The processing plants will supply oil for the food and drug manufacturing industries and cake for livestock and poultry industry. Other forms, such as raw seeds, crushed unrefined and refined oil could be supplied as desired,” Othman said.
A farmer, Ahmadu Jameel, told The Guardian that: “The focus in this country is growing the seed and exporting, as there are few processing factories. One of the major challenges facing the industry is lack of mechanized and modern farming techniques. Small-scale farmers use outdated skills and have limited access to finance and technology. This continues to inhibit local production.”The Guardian learnt that based on this challenge, yield per hectare in Nigeria is 0.5–1.0 tonnes; compared to 1.4–1.6 tonnes per hectare in china.
Jameel stressed that the underperformance in yield is due to the knowledge gap and poor crop management practices adopted by smallholder farmers, adding that poor processing procedures are also affecting yields.“Based on what we were told, we have only three functional processing plants for sesame seeds, with the aggregate processing capacity of the three plants standing at 300 tonnes, with each producing 100 tonnes. The poor number of functional processing plants has affected the quality of the seeds, as most seeds are processed manually.
For a country that produces over 1,200 tonnes per day, manual sorting and processing of these seeds is inefficient. It has also affected the pricing.”He noted that for the country to maximize its potentials, new processing plants are needed to improve the quality of sesame seeds produced and processed in the country, in order to meet international standards and help with better pricing.