Women walk by homes destroyed by Boko Haram militants in Bama, Borno state, Nigeria. File Picture: REUTERS
Women walk by homes destroyed by Boko Haram militants in Bama, Borno state, Nigeria. File Picture: REUTERS

Abuja — Chinese importers are seeking alternative sources of sorghum as risks of a trade spat with the US linger.

But they are finding Nigeria, the world’s second-largest producer, unable to fill the gap as violence in producing regions leaves fields idle.

Sorghum is a drought-resistant grain used in the food and brewing industry as well as livestock feed, and a staple food in some parts of the world.

"The trade war opens up an opportunity for us to export to China," Muda Yusuf, head of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in a phone interview from Nigeria’s commercial capital.

"I don’t think Nigeria is able to take it as our capacity is dwindling because of all the security problems we have in our agricultural belt."

Nigeria produced 6.5-million tonnes of sorghum in 2017, second only to the US, which had output of more than 8-million tonnes, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Nigeria’s Agriculture Ministry puts annual output at 11-million tonnes, which it says is not enough for local demand of 12.5-million tonnes, raising questions about the capacity to export.

Buyers from China began making inquiries from Nigerian suppliers even before retaliatory tariffs with the US set in.

China imposed a tariff of 179% on imports of US sorghum in April after starting an antidumping and antisubsidy investigation in February.

It recently announced it was suspending the measure as the two countries seek to resolve their trade dispute.

Herders and farmers

The area planted with sorghum in Nigeria will shrink by 3% in 2018 to 5.2-million hectares due to the resurgence of attacks by Boko Haram Islamist militants in major producing areas, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Fighting has also intensified this year between herders and farmers over grazing land across much of central Nigeria, displacing hundreds of thousands of farmers, many of whom grow sorghum and other grains.

China is the world’s largest sorghum market and the threats of a trade war with the US have given sorghum-producing countries the opportunity to gain from the dispute between the world’s two biggest economies.

Nigeria, which suffered its worst economic contraction in 25 years in 2016 after oil prices collapsed, is seeking to diversify its crude-dependent economy by boosting agricultural exports.