BusinessDay

Nigeria’s food imports rise to 6yr-high as insecurity takes toll on farming

Nigeria has seen its food imports for the first nine months in 2021 surge to a six-year high as escalating issues of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and herdsmen attack continue to take a heavy toll on farming activities.

A total of N2.1 trillion food products were imported into the country from January through September in 2021, indicating a 75percent rise when compared to N1.2 trillion in the corresponding period of 2020, data from the National Bureau of Statistics trade report has shown.

The imported food products accounted for 9.43percent of Africa’s biggest economy total imports for nine months.

Africa’s most populous country has failed to grow more food for its fast-rising population who must be fed with staples ranging from rice, beans, tomatoes, and maize among others.

This has forced the country to spend millions of dollars yearly importing food, thereby putting pressure on Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves and importing thousands of jobs it would have created when the products are grown locally.

“The data is evidence that will still not grow enough food and we are left with no option than to import,” said AfricanFarmer Mogaji, group head – agribusiness, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) said in a response to questions.

“Imports are surging despite continuous government support and this is because of the high insecurity rate in the country,” Mogaji said.

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The sector recorded its lowest growth rate since the second quarter in 2018 as it grew by 1.22 percent in the third quarter of 2021, a decrease of 0.17percent from the corresponding period of 2020, and a decrease of 0.08percent from the preceding quarter.

The country’s agricultural activities were greatly impacted as farmers in Africa’s most populous country had to abandon their farmlands owing to escalating issues of kidnapping, banditry, and terrorism in major crops-producing states.

“I have not visited my 1,000 hectares farmland in Katsina state since last year owing to the activities of bandits and kidnapping in that area so, how can we feed ourselves and record growth in the sector if farmers are abandoning their farmland?” asked Ibrahim Kabiru, national president, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) during a panel discussion at a July BusinessDay’s Agribusiness and Food Security Summit.

“The government must provide adequate security if we are to increase our food production and halt the current rising cost in food prices,” Kabiru said.

According to the NBS report, wheat topped as the second most imported goods for the period, with N315.1billion, followed by cane sugar with N135.7billion.

Also, climate change has been altering and disrupting the farming cycle in the country for over three years, leading to a surge in importation.

“Apart from the obstruction caused by the pandemic, the rainfall situation in 2020 was unfavourable for farmers as many of them rely on rain-fed agriculture. There was a dry spell in the south and floods in the north which massively impacted food production,” said Kola Adebayo, a professor at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.

“The high rate of banditry and herdsmen attacks in Nigeria’s northern region, as well as armed robbery and kidnapping in the south, have forced many farmers to abandon farming further affecting food production,” Adebayo said.

Similarly, the government restriction of FX from importers of some selected food items is forcing some manufacturers in the food and beverage sector to source dollars outside the official window at a higher rate.

This led to over a 100 percent surge in the prices of key staples.

The United States Department for Agriculture (USDA) in its 2020 grain report for Nigeria predicted that the country will heavily rely on grain imports in 2021 owing to the impact of the pandemic, FX devaluation, and insecurity issues that cut 2020 food production output.