Agriculture is the main stay of Nigerian economy. It involves small scale farmers scattered over wide expanse of land area, with small holding ranging from 0.5 to 3.0 hectare per farm land. It is characterized by rudimentary farm systems, low capitalization and low yield per hectare (Kolawale and Ojo, 2007). The roles of agriculture remain significant in the Nigeria economy despite the strategic importance of the oil sector. Agriculture provides primary means of employment for Nigeria and accounts for more than one third of total gross domestic product (GDP) and labour force (Babatunde and Oyatode, 2005). Cereals are those members of the grass family, the Poeceace grown for their characteristic fruit, the caryopsis, which have been the most important sources of world’s food for the last 10,000 years (Onwueme and Sinha, 1991). Wheat and barley are the oldest cultivated cereals. Their cultivation started in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia some 10,000 years ago, this region now include parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran (Onwueme and Sinha, 1991). The major cereal crops in Nigeria are rice, maize, sorghum, wheat, pearl, millet, sugar cane and fonio millet with rice ranking as the sixth major crop in terms of the land area while sorghum account for 50% of the total cereal production and occupies about 45% of the total land area devoted to cereal production in Nigeria (national extension agricultural research and liaison station (NEARLS, 1996). The role of cereals to modern society is related to its
importance as food crop throughout the world. In most parts of Asia and Africa, cereals products comprise 80% or more of the average diet, in central and western Europe, as much as 50% and in the United State, between 20 – 25% (Onwueme and Sinha, 1991). Cereals are the major dietary energy suppliers and provide significant amount of protein, minerals (potassium and calcium) and vitamins (vitamin A and C) (Idem and Showemimo, 2004). Cereals are consumed in a variety of forms, including pastes, noodles, cakes, breads, drinks etc. depending on the ethnic or religious affiliation. The bran, husk, plant parts and other residues (after processing) are useful as animal feeds and in the culture of micro-organism. Wax syrup and gum are extracted from cereals for industrial purposes. Different Nigeria ethnic groups use cereal crops residues for different purposes. More than 70% of the working adult populations in Nigeria are employed in the agricultural sector directly or indirectly and over 90% of Nigeria’s agricultural output comes from peasant farmers who dwell in the rural areas where 60% of the population live. The vast majority of these farmers have limited access to modern input and other productive resources are unlikely to have access to pesticides, fertilizers, hybrid seeds and irrigation without some form of public sector intervention (Ogunwole et al., 2004). Some of major problems militating cereals production in Nigeria are climatic factors (rainfall, temperature and solar radiation), soil factors, migration, socioeconomic considerations and government policies, pests and diseases among others.
The rate of growth of Nigeria’s food production is 2.5% per annum in recent years, while food demand has been,growing at the rate of more than 3.5% per annum due to high rate of population growth of 2.83% (Kolawole and Ojo, 2007). This paper attempts to make available new vital information that could help in increasing cereals production to meet the ever increasing Nigeria demand for both its human and animal population. cereal is any true grass cultivated for the edible components of its grain (botanically, a type of fruit called a caryopsis), composed of the endosperm, germ, and bran. Cereal grains are grown in greater quantities and provide more food energy worldwide than any other type of crop they are therefore staple crops. Some plants often referred to as cereals, like buckwheat and quinoa, are considered instead pseudocereals, since they are not grasses.
In their natural form (as in whole grain), they are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, oils, and protein. When refined by the removal of the bran and germ, the remaining endosperm is mostly carbohydrate. In some developing nations, grain in the form of rice, wheat, millet, or maize constitutes a majority of daily sustenance. In developed nations, cereal consumption is moderate and varied but still substantial.
While each individual species has its own peculiarities, the cultivation of all cereal crops is similar. Most are annual plants; consequently one planting yields one harvest. Wheat, rye, triticale, oats, barley, and spelt are the “cool-season” cereals. These are hardy plants that grow well in moderate weather and cease to grow in hot weather (approximately 30 °C, but this varies by species and variety). The “warm-season” cereals are tender and prefer hot weather. Barley and rye are the hardiest cereals, able to overwinter in the subarctic and Siberia. Many cool-season cereals are grown in the tropics. However, some are only grown in cooler highlands, where it may be possible to grow multiple crops in a year.
For a few decades, there has also been increasing interest in perennial grain plants.
This interest developed due to advantages in erosion control, reduced need of fertiliser, and potential lowered costs to the farmer. Though research is still in early stages, The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas has been able to create a few cultivars that produce a fairly good crop yield. The warm-season cereals are grown in tropical lowlands year-round and in temperate climates during the frost-free season. Rice is commonly grown in flooded fields, though some strains are grown on dry land. Other warm climate cereals, such as sorghum, are adapted to arid conditions.Cool-season cereals are well-adapted to temperate climates. Most varieties of a particular species are either winter or spring types. Winter varieties are sown in the autumn, germinate and grow vegetatively, then become dormant during winter. They resume growing in the springtime and mature in late spring or early summer. This cultivation system makes optimal use of water and frees the land for another crop early in the growing season.
Winter varieties do not flower until springtime because they require vernalization: exposure to low temperatures for a genetically determined length of time. Where winters are too warm for vernalization or exceed the hardiness of the crop (which varies by species and variety), farmers grow spring varieties. Spring cereals are planted in early springtime and mature later that same summer, without vernalization. Spring cereals typically require more irrigation and yield less than winter cereals.
Once the cereal plants have grown their seeds, they have completed their life cycle. The plants die and become brown and dry. As soon as the parent plants and their seed kernels are reasonably dry, harvest can begin.
In developed countries, cereal crops are universally machine-harvested, typically using a combine harvester, which cuts, threshes, and winnows the grain during a single pass across the field. In developing countries, a variety of harvesting methods are in use, depending on the cost of labor, from combines to hand tools such as the scythe or cradle.
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