Burgeoning global demand for sesame seeds for hummus, toppings on sushi, health foods and confectionery is boosting output in Nigeria and spurring expansion in the world’s third-biggest producer.

Production of the tiny seeds, often seen on bread rolls, is expected to grow 40 percent in Nigeria in the 2017-18 season, according to Sheriff Balogun, president of the National Sesame Seed Association of Nigeria. While current output ranges between 400,000 metric tons and 500,000 tons per season, “we should see a production of about 700,000 tons” with this year’s harvest, he said in an emailed response to questions.

Japan, with its sushi cuisine, is the leading destination of Nigerian sesame seed exports according to Balogun, who said many farmers are responding to growing global demand to increase production of the grain. Other destinations include China as well as Europe and North America.

With more than 180 million inhabitants, Africa’s most populous country and top oil producer is pushing for increased agricultural production and exports as part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s plan to steer the country away from dependence on hydrocarbons. Nigeria fell into its worst economic slump in 25 years in 2016 after the output and price of oil — its main export — plunged.

The government has pledged a 5 billion naira ($14 million) funding support to help growers expand their farming and obtain improved seeds, according to Balogun. “We have a five-year development plan which seeks to increase production to about 2 million tons per year,” by 2022, he said.

Rising global demand is estimated to outstrip output — currently estimated at more than 6 million tons per year — by 10 percent in 2018 “due to the adverse climatic conditions in major producing and exporting countries,” according to Jaison Davis, lead agriculture analyst at Mordor Intelligence, based in Hyderabad, India. Demand is being boosted by increasing use of sesame seed in confectionery and preference of its oils for presumed “health benefits,” he said.

More farmers are adopting the crop because they see its export as a means of earning foreign exchange at a time when Nigeria’s local currency has depreciated against the dollar, according to Lateef Adekoya, a local buying-agent based in Lagos, the commercial capital. Farm-gate prices have risen 20 percent in the past year to 275,000 naira per ton, he said.

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