Sesame seeds: Small seeds that could be Nigeria’s black gold

July 27 2018


The name, sesame seeds, might be strange to some Nigerians, but it is a flower plant that has a variety of relatives spread across Africa. It is the most sought after cash crop in Nigeria, after cocoa and it is currently Nigeria’s leading agricultural export in the first quarter of 2018.


Though unknown to many Nigerians, the seed – popularly called Benne seed in the Northern part of Nigeria – is an important crop to the Nigerian agricultural sector in particular, and Nigeria’s non-oil sector in general. The crop is quite largely cultivated in the country, thriving in relatively poor climatic conditions.Worldwide, there are over 4.8 million tonnes of the seeds produced yearly, with Myanmar being its largest producer. Nigeria is now the 2nd largest African producer, behind Sudan and ranked 7th in the world.USESThe seed has numerous uses, one of which is its being a very good source of vegetable oil that contains no cholesterol, making it the most demanded vegetable oil in the world.It can be used in pharmaceuticals, confectionery, cosmetics and many industries for paints, soaps, lubricants, shampoos, etc. Sesame seeds contain 50.5% oil and 25% protein.



Nigeria has been one of the highest sesame seed producing countries over the years, making the seed a very important component of the country’s agricultural export.Tropical areas are where the seeds are mainly cultivated. Due to the drought-resistant nature of the sesame plant, it thrives excellently in the Northern part of the country and averagely in some parts of South West.Sesame seed production probably began in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria before spreading to other states. The leading producers of the seeds are Jigawa, Nasarawa, Benue and Sokoto. Other sesame cultivating states include Yobe, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Gombe and Plateau states.A sesame farmer in Gumel, Jigawa State, Mallam Haruna Abubakre, who spoke with Nairametrics confirmed that over 6,000 registered farmers grow the plant in the state mainly for export. He listed Babura, Mallam-Madori and Maigatari  as the leading towns in sesame seed production in Jigawa and Nigeria in general.


However, the seed can also thrive in some parts of the South East and South South, since it has been successfully cultivated in Ebonyi State and the Northern part of Cross River State. Sesame also grew when planted in Delta State, but its hybrid did not yield much seeds, although the leaves were bigger.As at now, sesame is cultivated in about 26 states across Nigeria and with the good returns sesame farmers are getting from the seed, coupled with the huge demand by importers, its cultivation is expected to increase and spread to other states.



As at the end of 2017, Nigeria’s yearly production of sesame seeds stood at 450,000 metric tonnes and the production is expected to rise in 2018. According to another sesame farmer in Jigawa State, Mallam Ibrahim Ibn Muhammad, who also spoke to Nairametrics, the seed is commonly grown by subsistence farmers. He went on to the add that the major reason why sesame thrives richly in the Northern part of Nigeria is the fact that it can easily resist drought where other crops fail.Another reason for its huge success in that region, according to him, is that the seed doesn’t require much fertilizer, thereby, making it less expensive to cultivate. He also pointed out the fact that the plant attracts many farmers because of its pest resistance, which lowers the cost of producing the seeds.Also, Alhaji Sheriff Balogun, National President, National Sesame Seed Association of Nigeria (NSSAN), disclosed that Nigeria exports 80% of her annual production and that it could provide job opportunities for Nigerians through its value chain. He further listed poor transportation infrastructure, multiple taxation and inadequate crop processing plants as the major challenges hindering the production of Sesame seeds in Nigeria.



Sadly, Nigeria only engages in the exportation of the seeds and does not extract the oil at commercial scale. Contract cleaning facilities are available in Lagos, nevertheless, there are no hauling operations.Investigation by Nairametrics revealed that buying and exportation of sesame seeds in Nigeria is led by three companies: Olam, Kelani Ark Poter Hamlet Ltd and Greenwen International Resources. Olams is an Indian agribusiness multinational company operating from seeds to shelves in over 60 companies. Olams also exports cash crops like cocoa, coffee, etc.Kelani Ark Poter Hamlet Ltd is a seasoned exporter of most agro-allied products from Nigeria. Other leading sesame seed exporting companies include Errand Horse Ltd, Paveway International Traders Ltd, etc.Meanwhile, since the seeds are majorly cultivated by peasant farmers, their commercialisation is carried out by buyers and middlemen, who move round the rural areas of Northern Nigeria to buy from these subsistence farmers. These buyers transport the seeds to big towns, where they are stored and sold to the agents of major sesame seed exporters.The urban markets in these sesame producing states are the buying centres/towns for exporters. These buying centres include Malam-Madori in Jigawa, Doma in Nasarawa, Potiskum in Yobe and Dawanau in Kano State.



Nigeria’s Sesame seeds holds value for exports and is currently in hot demand throughout the world because oil extracted from the seeds is better than any other oil in the whole world. The total value of sesame exports in Q1 2018 was N26.6 billion, according to Foreign Trade Statistics Report for Q1 2018 released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). This shows an increase of 83.1% from N14.53 billion generated in Q4 2017 and a year on year growth of 104.1% from N13.03 billion the seeds generated in Q1 2017.

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 However, the seed has the potential of earning Nigeria up to a billion dollars yearly, according to the Director-General of Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMDC), Dr Hussain Ibrahim:     “In 2016, Nigeria earned 123.3 million U.S. dollars from the export of sesame seed but it has the potential of earning between 500 million dollars and one billion dollars with value addition,’’Therefore, sesame seed can be regarded as a black gold, which can earn Nigeria billions of dollars in foreign exchange annually, if government pay more attention to the seed and encourage investment in its value chain. Also, its oil should be extracted on a commercial scale, with much value addition.



Nigeria’s leading agricultural export is majorly exported to Asia and Europe. The total value of sesame exports in Q1 2018 was N26.6 billion. China and Japan are the leading destinations for sesame seeds grown in Nigeria. N8 billion worth of sesame seeds were exported to China, N6.56 billion to Japan and N6.1 billion to Turkey in the first quarter of 2018.Other top sesame seed importing countries from Nigeria in Q1 2018 include Vietnam, with N2.2 billion worth of the seed’s import, and the Netherlands with N800 million.



speaking with Nairametrics, a sesame seed exporter and Managing Director of Errand Horse Nigeria Ltd, Mr. Francis Unuafe, said despite Federal Government’s moves to diversify the economy, non-oil exporters, especially sesame seed exporters, still face numerous hurdles in the bid to export the product. Mr Unuafe listed the constraints to include: Difficulty in getting the required-quality seeds that meet international standard for exportation


    Inadequate number of good laboratories to process (test) the sesame seeds in before exportation


    Nigeria’s bad external image makes it hard to export the seeds, since importers are extra careful in dealing with Nigerians


    Inability to access financial assistance from financial institutions, especially Nigerian Export-Import Bank (NEXIM). Even, when the loan finally arrives, it is often very late


    Ineffective equipment/facilities at the Apapa Port


    Lack of adequate access to logistics and input support from appropriate quarters


    Poor road networks frustrate the movement of the seeds from the buying centres to laboratories and also to ports


    Poor infrastructure and inefficient marketing arrangements which make it difficult for agric exporters to market the products


    Many trucks conveying sesame seeds are left unattended to on time, thereby making it hard in getting the seeds into the vessels on time which results in the exports missing their vessels on several  occasions


    Exporters incur demurrage on sesame goods inside trucks as a result of bad road networks leading to the ports


    Export grants, support schemes and incentives are not properly implemented and the non-oil export sector is highly regulated by the government.



A source from NEXIM who spoke to Nairametrics on the condition of anonymity, however, blamed the exporters for their inability to secure loans from the bank due to their failure to meet the bank’s loan requirements, which according to her, include genuine evidence of  exportation of the sesame seeds, since some of those applying only engage in the buying and selling of sesame and not exporting the product.Advising exporters to register with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), the NEXIM Bank official stated that registration with NEPC will go a long way to enable  sesame seed exporters secure the bank’s facilities. She also advised genuine exporters to secure Letter of Credit (LC), which gives credence to the business and shows that the exporter has a valid contract to export the seed.