A recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics that Nigeria’s agricultural imports far exceeded agricultural exports by 120 per cent in the first Quarter of 2022 is a worrisome development. While agricultural imports stood at N443.36 billion, the agro exports stood at N201.59 billion. The situation shows that government’s policies on agriculture are not working as expected. According to available statistics, wheat and palm oil dominate Nigeria’s agro imports. Within the period under review, wheat import from the United States was put at N71.56billion, while that from Argentina was N59.04billion. This was followed by palm oil import from Malaysia and China valued at N13.52billion.
Generally, it is estimated that about $2billion is spent annually on importing wheat. With the escalation of the Russia/Ukraine war, the cost of wheat importation may rise even higher by year’s end.
The NBS report also showed that the value of total trade in agricultural goods fell Quarter on Quarter by 19 per cent to N644.94billion in first Quarter 2022 from N799.87billion in the fourth Quarter 2021. This unimpressive performance of the agricultural sector in the Q1, 2021 is in spite of several policies that the Federal Government initiated to boost food production and security in the country. These policies included the National Accelerated Food Production Programme, 1972-1973, Operation Feed the Nation, 1976-1980, Green Revolution Programme, 1981-1983, and the Anchor Borrowers Programme, an intervention policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria, among other programmes, aimed at increasing food production and exports. On the Anchor Borrowers Programme, CBN says it has disbursed almost N600billion as loans to farmers, especially those involved in commercial rice farming.
It is regrettable that Nigeria’s agricultural sector, which used to be the mainstay of the economy and major revenue earner for the country, is currently struggling to the extent that the country is relying so much on agro imports. Figures from the CBN show that between 2015 and 2019, food imports gulped $14 billion. The amount has reportedly doubled in the last two years due to farmer/herders conflicts and scarcity of foreign exchange.
Leveraging on agricultural produce that Nigeria has comparative advantage should be pursued with vigour. The National Food Security Programme, which was launched in September 2008, was aimed at transforming the country into food exporter nation. Its vision is to ensure sustainable access, availability and affordability of quality food for all Nigerians. Good enough, the Federal Government earmarked N200 billion for the takeoff of the programme. However, food scarcity is increasing daily, fueled by insecurity and inflation. The present inflation rate of 17.71 per cent for the month of May, the highest in 11 months, is driving prices of food items beyond the reach of most Nigerians. It has made Nigeria a net importer of essential agricultural products, thereby defeating the lofty goals of the National Food Security Programme. The short and medium term goals of the food security programme remain, among other things, to improve the country’s agricultural productivity by moving from subsistence to commercial or mechanised farming. It will also expand and improve large-scale production, food storage, as well as processing capacity. Sadly, these objectives are yet to achieve the desired results.
Therefore, there is urgent need for aggressive diversification in the agric sector as well as other non-oil sectors of the economy. The focus should be on massive production of rice, groundnut, cashew, wheat, coconut, pawpaw, plantain, yam, cassava, banana and others, with the aim of boosting domestic sufficiency in food production and for agro exports.
Any country that is unable to feed its citizens cannot be said to be truly independent. In that connection, we urge state governments to empower individuals and groups with keen interest in commercial farming with soft loans. They can collaborate with the Bank of Agriculture and the Bank of Industry to get such loans at low interest rate. That is exactly what the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture has done with the Bank of Agriculture for its civil servants interested in farming. It is part of the state government’s efforts to encourage self-sufficiency and sustainability in food production. Other states can emulate the Lagos State example to boost agricultural exports. The foregoing has made it imperative for governments across the country and banks to invest heavily in agriculture and other non-oil exports.
Besides, investment in agro industries will provide the much-needed employment opportunities. Altogether, boosting agro exports and reducing imports will enhance our forex earnings. However, government must tackle the insecurity that has affected investment in the agricultural sector. Moving forward, we need policies that will reposition the agricultural sector so that Nigeria’s agro exports can compete favourably in the international market.