Cigi investigates growing Canadian wheat markets in Nigeria and Ghana

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In the wake of increasing Canadian wheat imports to Nigeria and Ghana over the last several years, Cigi embarked on a technical mission to West Africa late last summer to meet with customers.

This was the first mission to the region for most members of Cigi’s technical team. Visits to major milling companies provided an opportunity for relationship-building and to ensure customers know that Cigi has technical expertise available for support. The team also gathered information on the market, focusing on reasons for the growing imports, wheat quality requirements, end-use processes and any competitor wheats used.

A member of the Cigi technical team (left) discusses Canadian flour dough quality characteristics with a customer in Ghana.

A member of the Cigi technical team (left) discusses Canadian flour dough quality characteristics with a customer in Ghana.

Nigeria is currently the largest importer of Canadian wheat of the three countries in the region, followed by Ghana and Sudan, says Esey Assefaw, Cigi Head of Asian Products and Pasta Technology who led the mission. He had previously visited Nigeria in 2014, and also Sudan and Ghana with other Cigi staff in 2016.

Sudan had been the region’s top importer of Canadian wheat but the amount drastically declined in the past few years due to factors such as UN sanctions and low oil prices, says Esey. Canadian wheat imports to Nigeria and Ghana totalled about 838,700 tonnes (MT) and 343,800 MT, respectively for 2016-17 (a significant increase in the last couple of years when, in 2014-15, Nigeria imported 488,300 MT and Ghana, about 125,000 MT). Both countries prefer No. 2 CWRS for bread production and Nigeria also imports a small amount of CWAD for pasta processing, totalling 31,500 MT in 2016-17.

“The missions are about developing relationships with customers and learning more about what they are doing, “ says Yvonne Supeene, Head of Cigi Baking Technology. “That’s the challenge for us, and why we need these missions. Even within a country, Canadian wheat is being used differently among the mills which may or may not share the same ideas on the value of it.  We have to understand how Canadian wheat is really being used in the marketplace and assess that carefully so we can position ourselves to help them.”

A woman in Lagos balances loaves of bread for delivery. Nigeria has about 90,000 bakeries serving local markets.

A woman in Lagos balances loaves of bread for delivery. Nigeria has about 90,000 bakeries serving local markets.

Yvonne says the recent visit to Nigeria was enlightening, especially finding out about the huge consumer demand for bread which is expected to increase with a growing population. “It was interesting because I realized how important bread is as a staple there.”

Between 1991 and 1998 wheat imports were not allowed into Nigeria due to a government push to use their own crops, she says. “They weren’t importing wheat but instead imported flour. They grow about 500,000 MT annually in the northern part of Nigeria but the wheat quality does not meet the requirements for (pan) bread production so it is used mostly for flatbreads. Today there is a high tariff on imported wheat and flour but more on flour.”

The mission team found that as part of Nigeria’s effort to be self sustaining and to encourage farming, a small percentage of domestically grown cassava is milled into flour and blended with wheat flour. Cassava, a starchy root vegetable from which tapioca is derived, is high in carbohydrates and a major staple in the developing world. However, cassava also has a short shelf life so the actual inclusion with wheat flour is limited.

Nigeria’s market is price sensitive which can impact wheat purchases as any increase in production costs cannot be easily passed on to consumers, says Esey. Increases in bread prices have been resisted and companies have at times reduced the cost. Over the last several years the region shifted away from U.S. wheat imports which were once prominent. Currently, Russian and Black Sea wheat is commonly used, which is also less expensive than higher quality CWRS usually used for blending to increase protein levels in bread production (additives are also used to increase dough strength).

The Nigerian marketplace does not have large industrialized bakeries and the infrastructure does not support efficient distribution of bread products, says Yvonne. There are about 90,000 small bakeries in Nigeria, mixing is done by hand, and bread is primarily produced for a local market.

“Despite how important bread is, mills still produce pretty much one type of flour for the industry,” she says. “This is a growing market so if infrastructure improves and flour specifications diversify it will give them more opportunities to create niche markets for certain flours.”

Semovita is a starchy Nigerian food product made of durum wheat or white wheat semolina, cooked into a dense paste and eaten with soups.

Semovita is a starchy Nigerian food product made of durum wheat or white wheat semolina, cooked into a dense paste and eaten with soups.

Another common product consumed is semovita, a starchy food made of durum wheat or white wheat semolina and cooked into a dense paste and eaten with soups, says Esey. CWAD is used for pasta and there may be a future opportunity for it to be used in semovita production.

He adds that, given the price sensitivity of the market, there may be an opportunity for other price competitive wheat classes such as CNHR, and CPSR may fill a niche in a growing pasta market. Nigeria is also becoming a major global instant noodle producer which could be served by these wheat classes.

Cigi mission members also visited two of the top three milling companies in Ghana which is a much smaller market than Nigeria but has similar growth potential for Canadian wheat imports, says Yvonne. Some milling companies are particularly pleased with using 100% CWRS. “Ghana also gets a fair bit of Turkish flour going into that market. But, in general, Ghana really loves CWRS.”

She describes a “much more stressful baking operation” undertaken by smaller bakeries that also dominate the Ghanaian bread market. Production involves a long fermentation process where dough can sit for 10 hours before being baked in wood fire ovens. “It’s what they are accustomed to doing but sometimes they don’t put enough water in the dough because it will take longer to process and this way it is much easier to work with. But not optimizing absorption during processing of the raw material impacts the quality.”

Customers in both countries indicated they are interested in Cigi workshops or other technical support, Yvonne says. The mission helped improve Cigi staff knowledge of market issues and customer requirements in the region to be better able to offer support in their continued use of Canadian wheat.

Nigeria and Ghana were also visited in December as part of the annual new crop missions to customer countries around the world by a team representing Cigi, Canadian Grain Commission, and Cereals Canada, as well as an exporter and producer. Watch for a report on the missions at cigi.ca in January.