Nigeria’s food production has for many years been unable to support the growing population, and the situation could get worse as the population continues to grow exponentially, projected to hit 450 million by 2050, without commensurate efforts being put into increasing food production.
The future of agriculture in Nigeria requires a paradigm shift which is to be anchored on cutting edge innovations, driven strictly by the private sector, and the youthful population as many practising farmers become too old to continue farm work.
At the same time, the country’s food requirements continue to expand, opening up new opportunities for wealth creation, jobs, and revenue generation for the country.
Discourse at BusinessDay 2018 Agribusiness and Food Security Summit with the theme ‘Evolving Actionable Models to Make Agribusiness More Viable’ which held on Friday, indicated potential investors are indeed gradually increasing their foot hold in the country, but the trend would have been at a faster pace, but for the operating environment which is not encouraging.
This, it was noted can be adequately addressed through innovations, and adoption of creative ways in addressing agribusiness.
Audu Ogbeh, minister of agriculture and rural development, who was a special guest of honour at the BusinessDay Agribusiness and Food Security Summit, stated that “the current average age of farmers in Nigeria is 65 years old, at that age we can no longer do so much, especially because agriculture is still crude; executed using cutlass and hoe.”
This, he said makes it imperative for more young people to get into agriculture.
“I see large numbers of young people interested in agriculture but limited by resources. But if you don’t get involved, who will feed you?
“By 2050, Nigeria’s population will be about 450 million, which will be equivalent to 5 percent of world population which is estimated to be 9 billion at the time,” said Ogbeh.
He further said that with access to credit being one of the biggest challenges facing agric today, the government is currently “pushing for agric lending rates to drop to 5 percent. Because, unless and until we do so, we will go nowhere. Worldwide the interest rate on agriculture is 2.5 to 3 percent.”
Segun Ojo, director general, National Agricultural Seeds Council, buttressed the need for concerted efforts in increasing food production, saying “this population boom will be accompanied by increased strains on our food supply and resources, causing increased pressure on already delicate political and ecological systems, as well as threats to global security.
“To feed our ballooning population, global food production must increase by an estimated 70 percent, and almost double in developing countries (like Nigeria)…As a result, the need has never been greater for innovative solutions that will lead to significant improvements in our food and nutritional security, including greater investment in science and technology.
“Plant breeding, the science of optimizing a plant’s genetic makeup to produce desired characteristics, can be accomplished through a number of techniques, including hybridization and more complex molecular techniques,” said Ojo.
Michele Deleen, deputy ambassador and head of Netherlands Representation in Lagos, on his part, highlighted the importance of increased private sector engagement, and the interest of foreign entities to invest in Nigeria, given the right conditions.
“As we speak, negotiations are going on to foster a better structure for the relationship between both countries, and this has working groups for different sectors which includes agriculture.
“Rabo bank (in the Netherlands) has done its first agriculture investment in Nigeria, something it wouldn’t have done few years ago. The Dutch Good Growth Fund is also investing in agriculture in Nigeria. Things are happening, things are moving forward,” Deleen said.
Deleen also emphasised the need for cooperation between the government and private sector, explaining that with the infrastructural challenges in the country, it is important that an enabling environment is created to ensure agribusiness really thrives in the country.
“The private sector has all the answers to the challenges of agriculture,” he noted.
Hans-Willem Van Der Waal, managing director, Agrofair Europe BV in his keynote address said that Nigeria can only stabilise its food prices when farmers’ risks are stabilised and reduced.
“In Nigeria it is easy to talk about the value chain but it is not easy to identify them because the value chains are fragmented,” Van Der Waal said.
“A fragmented supply chain increases risk for farmers and with effective supply chain such risks would be de-risked,” he added.
He stated that risks in the sector can be reduced through investment in infrastructure to aid reduction of wastages in perishable commodities and make agriculture interesting and more rewarding.
Godwin Obaseki, governor of Edo State, who was a special guest of honour at the summit, stated that government has to rethink its role in agriculture, by serving as an enabler, while also emphasising the importance of a private sector driven agric sector that will guarantee food security an economic prosperity in Nigeria.
Demonstrating his commitment to agriculture, Obaseki said the state is earmarking one-third of the state’s total land mass for agricultural purposes.
According to him, the young people are being actively encouraged to embrace agriculture and make it a business that can keep them gainfully employed.
The issue of herdsmen-farmers clashes was also addressed by different speakers, with a consensus which suggests ranching is the favoured position of the federal ministry of agriculture.
“We have to confine Nigerian cows in ranches. The day we begin this massive ranching, we will achieve sufficiency in dairy and beef production,” said Ogbeh in his remarks. “When your cow marches from Adamawa to Lagos that has gone beyond exercise,” he said, highlighting the counterproductive culture of moving cattle across hundreds of kilometres in search of food and water.
Obaseki, the Edo state governor, also explained that in some local governments where the state government had to order herdsmen to leave following violent clashes, negotiations are ongoing for their return but this will only be done through a ranching model.
CALEB OJEWALE & JOSEPHINE OKOJIE