Uche Usim, Abuja
The World Bank on Thursday, dropped a bombshell that Nigeria was dying slowly and tragically living on borrowed time due to its neglect of the agricultural sector and heavy reliance on crude oil which it said belongs to yesterday.
This was as the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, assured the Buhari administration would ensure an export based economy, especially as it recognises the importance of the agriculture sector to food security, job creation and poverty reduction.
He said the sector remains one of the priority areas for the government that has attracted several inter- vention programmes under the Agricultural Promotion Policy. But Senior Agriculture Economist, World Bank, Dr Adetunji Oredipe, who warned of the looming danger ahead of the country in Abuja while delivering a keynote address at the Agri- culture Summit Africa sponsored by Sterling Bank Plc, said economic diversifica- tion into agricultural should be in practice not theory as the economy has become increasingly dependent on im- portation, which he said has proven to be both a “disaster and calamity.”
According to him, if Nigeria had held to its market share in palm oil, cocoa, groundnut and cotton, it would have been earning at least $10billion annually from the three commodities.
The event was attended by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who was represented by the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Musta- pha Shehuri. Other dignitaries in attendance included the Minister of Women Affairs Mrs Paulen Tallen; Governor of Kebbi State Atiku Bagudu; Chairman of Sterling Bank Plc, Asue Ig- hodalo; and the Managing Director of Sterling Bank Plc, Abubakar Suleiman.
Painting the gloomy pic- ture of the country’s agricultural sector, the World Bank Agricultural Economistre- gretted Nigeria is now one of the largest food importers in the world.
He said: “In 2016 alone, Nigeria spent $965million on the importation of wheat, $39.7million to im- port rice and $100.2million on sugar importation.
He added that the deci- sion to spend $655million on fish importation seems financially irresponsible giv- en all the marine resources, rivers, lakes, and creeks in Nigeria.
He noted: “None of the above transactions (Importation of rice, fish, sugar) is fiscally, economically, or politically sustainable. Nigeria is tragically is living on borrowed times, a typical case of robbing Paul to pay Peter.
“For instance, each time we spend money to import rice, Nigerian local rice farmers are negatively affected in terms of morale, sales, and realisable income.
He lamented that despite its huge agricultural potential, Nigeria which used to be a major player in agricul- ture in the world has lost its place in the global food production club.
He said, “In the 1960s we had glory. That glory was visible and significant for the global community to recognise and applaud. Nigeria accounted for 42 per cent of the world’s exports of shelled groundnuts. Our total export volume was 502, 000 MT.
“This declined to 356 MT by 2016. Nigeria lost its leadership position and was overtaken by USA, China, and Argentina. Nigeria was also the largest exporter of palm oil in the world and accounted for 27 per cent of the global export volume for palm oil.
“Total export volume for palm oil by Nigeria was 167,000 MT in 1961. This declined to 8,000 MT by 2016 as the global export volume rose from 629,000 MT in 1961 to over 42.1 million MT in 2016.
“Malaysia and Indonesia took over using the oil palm seedlings obtained from Nigeria. In 2018, Malaysia earned $8.7billion, 28.6 per cent of total palm oil exports from export of palm oil alone.
“Indonesia alone recorded US$16.5billion, 54.5 per cent of total palm oil exports. Unfortunately, Nige- ria is not listed among the first 15 as at this moment.”
He said the huge taste of Nigerians for imported food items had also contributed to high levels of unemployment for the youths.
“Food producing factories in Western world, Far East Asia and other countries employ millions of young people to produce and export food. This is a source of livelihood and it helps the workers to live well and go to school.
“But on our side of the world, Nigerian youths have no one to hire them to build their capacity. This is a typical case of disguised employment or unemployment. It is unacceptable for our graduates to have no one who needs their university /polytechnic acquired knowledge and skills…”