On transforming agriculture in Nigeria

In various pronouncements, the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari has projected itself as focused on the primacy of the development of agriculture. It makes the case with multiple claims of successes in crop production, often citing rice as number one.  The evidence says otherwise.

The Summit of Northern Groups in a communique on March 24, 2018, following a meeting at Arewa House, Kaduna disputed the claims of success in agriculture. The sixteen groups stated, among other things, “Agriculture shows limited glimpses of recovery, but almost entirely through efforts of peasants and antiquated processes.”The National Bureau of Statistics states that“the agricultural sector in the first quarter of 2018 grew by 3.00% (year-on-year) in real terms, a decrease by 0.38% points from the corresponding period of 2017 and also a decrease by 1.23% points from the preceding quarter”. The contribution of agriculture to GDP also declined from 26.13% to 21.65% in Q4 2017. It fell by 3.0 per cent in 2018 compared to 4.2 percent in Q4 2017.

Beyond the issues of claims that cannot stand scrutiny, agriculture must be a critical success factor for Nigeria. The country must devise policies and actions to increase productivity in this vital area. BusinessDayrecommends that adding value to agriculture should be the policy direction and focus of the government to make up for lost ground and realise its potential.

Agriculture is a sector of prime importance in every economy. Its economic contributions flow from being a source of livelihood to the majority of workers to serving as a primary source for food and nutrition. The agricultural sector held sway in Nigeria from pre-independence, independence up to the end of the civil war. Its contribution to GDP averaged 57% and fetched 64.5% of exports. Oil took over in 1970, and the country’s focus shifted off the farms.

Nigeria’s Top 5 agricultural products are cassava, yam, maize, sorghum and millet. The principal exports are cocoa, oil seeds and oleaginous fruits, fruits and nuts, milk, cream and milk products and spices. In turn, the country imports fish, wheat sugar, molasses and honey, milk cream and milk products, fixed vegetables, fat and oil.

Our agricultural production is characterised by low yields and growth mainly through expansion of land. Productivity suffers from the absence of the application of technology. The Agriculture Promotion Policy (APP) of the Federal Government focuses on resolving food production shortages and improving output quantity. The Economic Recovery and Growth Programme pushes this by specifying targets. It projects self-sufficiency in tomato paste in 2017, rice in 2018 and wheat in 2019.

Nigeria needs more than buzz on agriculture. There must be a focused effort to enhance the value chain by moving into processing, marketing and other value-adding activities. The business of agriculture involves farming, supplies and inputs, finance, markets and marketing, storage, logistics and processing. Nigeria still plays mainly in farming, a low returns area.

Nigeria is currently the sixth largest producer of cocoa, but the country processes only 30% of the 248, 000 tonnes of cocoa beans it generates. Experts say increased concentration on processing, creating and building brands, and other activities in the value chain would increase production by at least 70%. Ghana invested in better processing and moved up the ladder as global number two from the fourth position.

Research and development is necessary to increase the value of our foods. In the 80s and 90s, Nigerian firms such as Guinness and Nigerian Breweries invested in alternatives to barley while Cadbury Nigeria built a patented cereal conversion plant to convert sorghum for use in the production of Bournvita and its confectioneries. Greater collaboration is needed between industry and research.

Agriculture also needs the enabling environment of macroeconomic stability, controlled inflation and peace and public order. It requires stable exchange rates based on market fundamentals to enable the purchase of inputs.  Infrastructure is critical. We expect that given the challenge of desertification and the search for land and water by herdsmen, the government would invest considerably in irrigation, roads and expansion of water routes.

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development committed to pursuing enabling legislation to boost domestic content for food so that there would be 10% cassava flour substitution for wheat in bread and blending of 10% ethanol with petrol. It has not happened three years later. So much to do in adding value to agriculture. Time is running out.

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