BusinessDay

Agric growth under Buhari weakest since 1999 despite investment

Of the four presidents who have led Nigeria since 1999, at no point has its agriculture sector reached its lowest ebb than between 2015 and 2020, despite investments made by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, data from the country’s statistics agency show.

In his Channels TV interview Wednesday, President Buhari failed to engage questions about Nigeria’s woeful economic indicators, but rather insisted that to fix the economy Nigerians must return to the farm.

Responding to apt data reeled out concerning Nigeria’s soaring debt stock, spiralling inflation and rising unemployment, President Buhari said, “Well, I am not sure how correct your calculations are, but all I know is that we have to allow people to have access to the farm. We just have to go back to the land.”

Buhari’s message to Nigeria is a simple one: his government will fix infrastructure by building functional rails and accessible roads and reap the benefits by having a vibrant agricultural sector with more farm produce gaining easier penetration across the country.

Despite the rhetoric about investment in the agriculture and bolder commitment to infrastructure the sector has grown at the weakest rate under the Buhari administration since the return of democracy in 1999, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and Statisense, a data consulting firm.

The sector grew at an average of 10.48 percent between 2016 and 2020, the lowest since 1999.

By comparison, the sector averaged 18.79 percent between 2011 and 2015 under former President Goodluck Jonathan, while between 2006 and 2010, a period that covers the tail end of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and late Musa Yar’ Adua, the sector recorded an average growth of 27.6 percent.

“Beyond what the government has done, there is still a lot more to do. The issue of insecurity has to be addressed, transportation cost also needs to be addressed,” the immediate past director-general of Nigeria’s largest business think tank, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf said.

Further analysis shows between 2001 and 2005, under the Obasanjo’s administration the sector had a historic average growth of 89.41 percent thereafter nosedived to 17 percent between 1995 and 2000, 10.7 percent from 1991 to 1995, 16 percent between 1986 and 1990, 15.5 percent between 1981 and 1985, etc.

“It is not just about growing crops, it is about dealing with the entire value chain, we need to strengthen the value chain,” Yusuf told BusinessDay via phone.

Read also: Buhari tells Nigerian youths not to rely on FG for jobs

In terms of the agricultural sector’s contribution to the GDP, the Buhari administration has so far done better than only the Jonathan administration, based on an analysis by Statisense.

Under Buhari’s administration between 2016 and 2020, the sector contributed an average of 25.06 percent to the country’s GDP, while under Jonathan’s administration between 2011 and 2015; the sector contributed an average of 23.03 percent.

The government needs to prioritise the use of technology and pay less focus of crude farm implements, Yusuf noted.

“We cannot be using hoes and cutlasses to feed over 200 million people. It is not just about feeding, it is also about exporting. Agriculture is supposed to be one of our areas of comparative advantage,” Yusuf pointed out.

According to Ken Ife, an economic policy analyst for the World Bank and UNIDO, a lot still needs to be done, especially in meeting local demands for consumer goods both as a lifestyle essential and as an important driver of economic activity.

“The consumer goods sector, like others, is having its fair share of pandemic induced challenges including forex scarcity, rising inflation and import bottlenecks,” he said.

“These, combined with a shrinking disposable income, have made many foreign products, which hitherto posed a fierce competition to local players, out of reach for many consumers,” he stated.

John Akerele, an agribusiness expert, said Nigeria was currently experiencing extremely high food inflation rate largely because of insecurity and the poor economic situation.

“Insecurity in the North, where most of the agricultural produce from Nigeria comes from, has prevented farmers from going to the farm.

“When farmers can’t farm at the large scale they usually would, it means harvest will be lean and there will be limited produce which more money will then be required to purchase,” he said.

Despite boasting about massive infrastructural allocation, BusinessDay analysis also shows that the Buhari government has been big on talk about infrastructure spending but small on actual expenditure.

For instance, the government budgeted N1.58 trillion and N2.17 trillion for capital expenditure in 2016 and 2017, but actual money released was N173 billion and N1.43 trillion.

In 2018, the government budgeted N2.8 trillion but actual money released was N1.6 trillion, while in 2019 the government budgeted N2 trillion for capital expenditure but actual money released was N1.17 trillion as of Q3’ 2019.

In 2020, the government budgeted N2.4 trillion but actual money released was N1.74 trillion.

In 2021, the government’s capital expenditure, including that of 10 Government-Owned Enterprises (GOEs) and projects tied to loans, was put at N3.85 trillion.

According to the public presentation of 2022 FGN Approved Budget, “As at November 2021, N3.40 trillion had been expended for capital. Of this, N2.98 trillion represents 83 percent of the provision for MDAs’ capital, N369.9 billion for Multi-lateral / Bilateral Project-tied loans, and N49.52 billion as GOEs capital expenditure.”

Last year, the government broke ground on a $2 billion internationally-funded rail line connecting the country’s north to neighbouring Niger Republic, and announced it was forming an Infraco, a public-private infrastructure fund with N1 trillion ($2.6bn) in seed capital from the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority and the Africa Finance Corporation, a mostly privately owned pan-African project finance firm.

Some critics argue that a rail connection to Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries with a gross domestic product of about one-fortieth the size of Nigeria’s, is a poor use of scarce resources.

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