• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Starving for solutions: Can open borders save Nigeria’s food security?

Africa needs policies, tech to boost food security — experts

“However, given the severity of the food insecurity crisis, increasing food imports might be a necessary, albeit temporary, step to prevent further deterioration.”

In the shadow of a rapidly expanding global population, technological advancements have become our lifeline, allowing us to hybridise goods, including food, to keep pace with the rising demand. As Macrotrends reports, the global population reached 8,045,311,447 in 2023, growing at a rate of 0.88 percent. These innovations are not just a marvel but a necessity, ensuring our food supply can meet this escalating demand.

Nigeria, a nation teetering on the edge of a food crisis, presents a stark example of this urgent need. Currently, 18.6 million people in Nigeria face food insecurity, with 3.3 million in the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe (BAY region). This number could swell to 26.5 million nationwide by the peak of the 2024 lean season, and to 4.4 million in the BAY region if immediate actions are not taken, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In this precarious situation, the debate over opening borders for food imports has become a flashpoint. Critics argue that such measures could undermine local agriculture and precipitate economic instability. However, given the severity of the food insecurity crisis, increasing food imports might be a necessary, albeit temporary, step to prevent further deterioration.

A closer examination reveals that the benefits of open borders for food imports can outweigh the drawbacks, particularly for nations grappling with food insecurity, high inflation, and climate-induced agricultural challenges. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, exemplifies these struggles. The country is reeling under severe economic pressure, marked by soaring food inflation, widespread food insecurity, and significant climate challenges such as flooding.

In April 2024, Nigeria’s food inflation rate soared to 40.53 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). This staggering increase from the previous year has made basic necessities unaffordable for millions of Nigerians. Additionally, insecurity has compounded the crisis, with militias preventing farmers from accessing their fields. In some northern regions, farmers must even pay taxes to farm—a grim reality that disrupts the food supply.

Climate change exacerbates these issues, with frequent and severe flooding devastating agricultural lands and reducing crop yields. The Nigeria Agriculture Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS) highlighted the impact of the 2022 flooding on agriculture, reporting about N700 billion worth of investment lost in the sector.

Amidst this backdrop, the debate over opening borders for food imports gains urgency. Protectionist policies, while seemingly beneficial in shielding local producers from foreign competition, often lead to higher prices and reduced availability of goods. In the context of food, these policies can exacerbate shortages and drive up inflation, making it harder for consumers to access affordable, nutritious food.

Contrary to protectionist beliefs, open borders for food imports can offer several advantages. Importing food can stabilise domestic prices by increasing supply and reducing pressure on local markets. This approach can be particularly beneficial during poor harvests or natural disasters. Relying on a diverse array of food sources reduces the risk of food insecurity. If local crops fail due to climate conditions or insecurity, imports can ensure that the population still has access to essential food items.

Furthermore, importing food can stimulate competition, encouraging local producers to improve efficiency and reduce costs, ultimately benefiting consumers. Countries like Singapore have successfully leveraged food imports to enhance food security and economic stability. Singapore imports over 90 percent of its food from more than 180 countries and regions, ensuring a stable and diverse food supply. This strategy has placed Singapore at the top of the Global Food Security Index.

The success stories of other countries offer valuable insights for Nigeria. The United States, China, Germany, and other nations import significant amounts of food, not because they are food insecure, but to ensure variety and stability in their food supply. For Nigeria, increasing food imports could address immediate, critical challenges by reducing food prices and inflation, making food more affordable, and reducing the risk of food insecurity.

However, the potential drawbacks of open borders for food imports must be addressed proactively. Sudden exposure to international competition can hurt local farmers, especially small-scale producers, who may struggle to compete on price and quality. Over-reliance on food imports can make a country vulnerable to global supply chain disruptions, trade disputes, and price volatility. Increased demand for foreign currency to pay for imports can also put pressure on the national currency, potentially leading to devaluation.

To maximise the benefits and mitigate the drawbacks of open borders for food imports, Nigeria can adopt several strategies. Addressing the root causes of insecurity and supporting local farmers through subsidies, technology investments, and infrastructure development can help them compete more effectively and improve productivity. Establishing strategic food reserves can buffer against global supply chain disruptions and price volatility, ensuring a steady food supply even in times of international market instability. Diversifying import sources can reduce dependence on any single country or region, mitigating risks associated with trade disputes and supply chain disruptions.

The myth that protectionism is always beneficial for a nation’s economy, particularly in the context of food, does not hold up under scrutiny. For Nigeria, opening borders for food imports can offer a viable solution to the pressing issues of food inflation, food insecurity, and climate-induced agricultural challenges. By stabilising prices, ensuring a more reliable food supply, and encouraging local agricultural innovation, open borders can contribute significantly to economic stability and growth.

However, it is crucial to address the potential downsides proactively. Supporting local farmers, establishing strategic reserves, and diversifying trade sources are essential measures to ensure that the benefits of open borders are realised without undermining domestic agriculture or economic stability.

While open borders for food imports are not a panacea, they can be a crucial component of a broader strategy to enhance food security, stabilise prices, and promote sustainable economic growth in Nigeria.

By learning from the experiences of other countries, such as those that have successfully implemented open border policies alongside investments in domestic agriculture, Nigeria can navigate the challenges. This includes focusing on areas where the country has a comparative advantage, such as cassava production, while strategically importing staple foods facing shortages.

Additionally, implementing well-thought-out policies that incentivize local production, improve infrastructure, and reduce food waste can further strengthen Nigeria’s food security and economic resilience.

NIRSAL empowers local farmers to boost Nigeria’s wheat productionThrough this multi-pronged approach, Nigeria can leverage the opportunities presented by open borders to build a more prosperous and food-secure future for its citizens.