• Monday, July 22, 2024
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How Nigeria can move from net food importer to exporter

How Nigeria can move from net food importer to exporter

For Nigeria to maximise its agric value chain opportunities, boost foreign exchange earnings and transit from a net importer to an exporter of food, it must first focus on crops it has the competitive advantage in and add value to its agro commodities, experts have said.

The experts, who spoke at the BusinessDay 2023 AgreX Summit on Thursday, called on the government to focus on providing interventions targeted at boosting the production of those crops.

According to them, the country can only strengthen the value of the naira when it constantly records a positive balance of trade.

“We must focus on crops that we have a comparative advantage in their production if we want to become a net exporter,” said Ikechukwu Kelikume, an economist who lectures at the Lagos Business School.

He said the country must stop exporting raw commodities without value addition, noting that the greatest opportunities in the agricultural value chains lie in processing.

According to him, the higher the value chain that is close to the consumer, the greater the value of earnings for investors. “Most of the things we export raw, we virtually import them back as finished products,” he said, adding that it has made the country unable to get value for its export.

Citing an example, Kelikume said all the sanitisers imported into the country during the pandemic were made from ethanol and Nigeria had not yet taken advantage of this in adding value to its cassava production to process ethanol and become a major supplier to the global market despite being the largest producer of the tuber.

He called on the country to adopt smart and innovative techniques in growing its food to boost its crop production while educating farmers on good agricultural practices.

“The biggest problem we face today in Nigeria’s agriculture is that it is a science-based business,” he said.

Akin Sawyerr, co-founder of the Agricultural Fresh Produce Growers and Exporters Association of Nigeria, in his keynote address, said despite the key opportunities in production, an available market and linkages that enable agribusiness to thrive, the country is yet to harness its export potential.

He pointed out that the absence of commercially-minded farms, poor quality seeds, inadequate farming practices and processes including a lack of produce traceability are challenges limiting the country’s export potential.

“If we address these issues, we have addressed over 90 percent of the issues affecting our exports currently,” he said. “We cannot achieve our agro-export potential without relevant certifications, and this is key for earning the much-needed FX to stimulate growth.”

Speaking on achieving internal standardisation, Annabel Kamuche, group managing director of NICERT, said there is a huge standard gap.

According to her, Nigeria does not have a national pesticide policy in place and this allows the inflow of adulterated pesticides into the country.

Farmers often use them in more quantities than they should, leading to rejections when they export, she said, adding that the country needs a regulation to standardise produce and must enforce penalties to ensure compliance.

“Until we have standards for primary production and penalty for defaulters we won’t address the issue of quality,” Kamuche said.

“Government should create policies that will help investors excel in the sector such as a tax holiday for manufacturers of agriculture-based products, duty-free policy for agric equipment, which must be enforced, and incentives for farmers.”

She said market intelligence is needed in its relations to products and regions, urging exporters to ensure they properly understand the market, the standards and minimum residue permit in the market they are exporting to.

Folorunsho Olayemi, lead consultant and chief executive of Sammort Agro-Consults Limited, said chemical usage is important in food production but the problem with Nigeria is that the majority of the chemicals used by farmers were banned several years ago.

To address the problem, Olayemi said farmers need continuous sensitisation on the dangers of chemical usage and alternative methods for food preservation.

According to him, the country can only harness its export potential when the issue of food safety is fully addressed. “If you must be a successful exporter, you must be a successful domestic producer and seller.”

“We need to know how to handle our products starting from cultivation to consumption to ensure quality,” he said.

Ibrahim Kabiru, national president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, said the country’s journey to prosperity begins with food security, leading to the improvement in the living standards of farmers and revitalising rural economies across the country.

Read also: Nigeria faces catastrophic food insecurity on accelerating inflation

According to him, the country must first focus on meeting its local demand before tapping export opportunities.

Earlier in his opening remarks, Frank Aigbogun, publisher of BusinessDay, who noted that the country has a food security problem as it is unable to grow enough food for its citizenry, applauded the President for declaring a state of emergency on food.

Aigbogun said the country’s food situation is not a hopeless case, adding that it can transition from an importer to become a food powerhouse with clear policy and incentives.

“There is a need for the right kind of agriculture, especially with the kind of crisis we face. It is not as bad as it does appear. If Ethiopia, given its situation, can build up from importing wheat to exporting it in four years, then we can,” he said.