Sesame seeds, or beni-seeds as they are locally known, are among the most commercially viable crop critical to the agricultural economy of Nigeria.
Despite the high viability of the crop, data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows Nigeria’s production of sesame has been uneven compared to demand over the years.
The country’s best output was in 2012 when the country produced 994,800 tonnes. Thereafter, the output fell and picked up in 2015. It fell again in 2017.
Despite the fluctuation in output, Nigeria’s export of sesame has improved significantly. Although there was no continuous increase in export, data seen by PREMIUM TIMES shows that the country recorded the highest export of sesame in 2019.
Prior to this period, export fell from 2015 to 2018 before attaining the feat in 2019 which was the highest export value in the 10 years period.
Sudan is the highest producer of sesame in Africa. Its output in 2019 was 11.2 million tonnes. Sudan alone accounts for 45.8 per cent of the total output of the top six African countries put together.
Nigeria’ s output makes up 18.2 per cent of the total output. By implication, Nigeria is the second-largest producers of sesame in Africa.
The use of the sesame seed is wide and varied and is dependent on the parts of the seed being processed. The sesame seed is used in confectionery, biscuits, and in bread making.
Also, oil extracts from sesame seeds have a wide range of applications. It is used for cooking, used in medicine for treating ulcers and burns, used in making aerosols, and in manufacturing margarine.
Also, low-grade oil of sesame is used locally in manufacturing soap paints, lubricants, and illuminants. The by-product from processing sesame seed is used in making animal feeds.
Beyond these listed applications, sesame is also used in different countries for their local dishes and delicacies.
The market for sesame seeds is quite vast with Japan and China as the major importers of the seeds. Countries like Turkey, India, Poland, and the Netherlands have also traded with Nigeria in the past.
Sherrif Balogun, president of the National Sesame Seed Association of Nigeria, said sesame is the largest contributor of foreign exchange among agriculture products to Nigeria’s economy.
“We are currently doing 500,000 tonnes. For Nigeria to maximize it’s potential, it has to first increase production, and secondly set up dehauling plants for value-addition, and thirdly to set set up a sesame oil processing plant.
“If you look at production in itself, it’s very easy for Nigeria to grow our production to 1.5 million tonnes per annum. This we need to do by putting a million hectare of land for cultivation.
“If you take the producing states which starts for about 28 states producing, with each state producing, putting additional 50,000 hectares of land under cultivation, that’s about 5 million tonnes in one year. If we are able to do that, we get about three times more than what we are earning today,” Mr Balogun said.
Data shows that 90 per cent of the sesame seed produced in the country is exported abroad. Currently, there are 26 sesame-growing states in Nigeria; Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Nassarawa, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe, and Abuja. Jigawa has the highest area of production and total production in the country followed by Benue State.
Mr Balogun admonished major stakeholders to carry out sesame processing because there is money to be made in value addition along the sesame value chain.
“We are lucky we don’t have the challenge about selling, because there’s demand for sesame, there’s no problem of saying you produce and cannot sell. There’s a market for the product.
“I encourage more people to go into sesame business because it’s a very profitable business, and is not a seed that is difficult to grow, and can provide a lot of employment for women and youth,” Mr Balogun said.
Iordye Charles, a sesame farmer with about 20 years of experience in Benue State, said sesame is so lucrative in terms of oil and it is an international product that farmers can sell and earn money, while the shafts can be used for animal feed.
His view was corroborated by another sesame farmer, Nwafor Ernest, the CEO of Ermopre farms in Ebonyi State.
“It’s very very profitable. It’s the number one exported agro product in the country, and for its production, you don’t need to carry out too much work on it. You spend a little and gain more. There’s a market for sesame. We are not looking for buyers as far as sesame is concerned,” he said.
Another farmer based in Sokoto, Ismaila Gumbi, added: “There’s a market for sesame, as we have plenty off-takers for it, and many marketers of sesame who buy from our farmers. It is very profitable and easy to farm.”
A profitability analysis shows that sesame seed cultivation generates N2.08 for every N1 invested. Farmers on average incur an average total cost of production of N60,036.06 per hectare cultivated. After harvest, they generate an average revenue of N184,701.98 per hectare.
This leaves them with a net profit of N124,665.92 per hectare. Breaking this down, farmers make a profit of N12,466.59 per 100Kg bag of sesame and N124,665.92per tonne harvested. However, the range from cultivation to harvest is three months to four-month.
Mr Balogun said the sesame seed is currently generating $700 million annually. He said the country generates an average of $1,400 per metric tonne of sesame exported.
In a bid to harness its numerous opportunities and competitiveness globally, there’s the need to improve Nigeria’s processing value chain. Nigeria’s sesame presents huge opportunities as regards generating fiscal and export revenue.
“Nigeria sesame value chain includes production and processing. And the processing is divided into two. We can process oil by dehauling, and process into flour that is used in the confectionery. Our full course is to set up dehauling plants, oil processing plants, and flour processing plants. We already have about three companies dehauling right now,” Mr Balogun said.
Mr Ernest added: “There are lots of opportunities in sesame seeds value chain, as a producer which is the first point of call, as a processor, there are various aspects of processing, you can extract the oil, the end products can be used for feeds; i.e poultry and fish meal, also used in pharmaceuticals.”
For Mr Nwafor, the pervasive state of insecurity keeps farmers away from accessing their farms since a hostile environment would also affect the yield during production, as farmers won’t be able to manage their farm properly the way it ought to.
Mr Charles said insecurity affects sesame production mostly in the Fadama areas due to the bush in the area. He also added that: “Cattle like to move around the area, they also come out at upland areas where we plant sesame seeds, and disturbing the production of sesame. We are having difficulties in production. It affects our yield.”
Mr Ismail also said: “People interested in sesame are ready to produce in commercial quantities but the insecurity is a challenge. As there are challenges of bandits in the bush, it is safer to plant in nearest city farms, because if you plant deeper into the bush you can attract so many problems.”
He added that the major challenge in sesame apart from the insecurity is the lack of machinery capacity to extract the sesame oil. He said most sesame farmers are only able to harvest, thresh, clean, and put in bags for sales.
He said the lack of training is also a challenge so that farmers can increase their yield.
Mr Charles said low-income sesame farmers are not mechanised, which makes them produce twice in a season.
“We hardly farm dry season sesame because we need lots of water. We don’t have boreholes, irrigation pumps, dams. All we have is the river. We hardly find machineries readily available,” Mr Charles said.
Mr Ernest said: “One of the major challenges is funding to carry out production in commercial quantity, and as such sesame farmers need assistance from both the government and nongovernmental organization and international donors.”
Increasing sesame production
According to some of the farmers who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES, although they have not benefited from the anchor borrowers program in boosting their production, they still have market for their sesame produce.
Mr Balogun said: “Even before the anchor borrowers programme, the sesame association has been far ahead of thinking of ways to help the farmers, to grow and earn from the sesame seeds.
It was designed in such a way that the farmer takes 25 per cent, and the bank provided a loan of 25 per cent, and after the farmer harvest his products, sell his products, and then pay off his loan.
First Bank took the bull by the horn as at that time. It was the only bank that was there to listen to us, and partnered with us in that scheme, we did it for two years in Kebbi state, and for one year in Borno State, it was a learning curve for us as an association.
“In Borno, it was very successful because recovery rate was about 95 per cent, while in Kebbi the recovery rate in the first year was about 50 per cent, and the second year about 60 per cent, but it increased the production in Borno and Kebbi, and brought more awareness, now Kebbi is doing a lot of sesame seeds, Borno, also, but because of the problems of Borno now, we don’t have much farming activities going on,” Mr Balogun said.
Mr Balogun noted that the scheme dated back in 2007, was years ahead of the government’s anchor borrowers programme, as it increased production, brought more awareness, providing an additional source of revenue for the sesame farmers, and helped open up opportunities for sesame farmers in seeing the potential in sesame seeds.