The Nigerian government closed its border with Benin Republic on August 20, 2019, in order to curb rice and petrol smuggling. It was then a temporary measure codenamed ‘Ex-Swift Response’. But on October 14, the government extended this exercise to January 31, 2020.
The following day, Sabo Nanono, the newly appointed Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria, when reminded by journalists that the exercise could worsen hunger and create food scarcity in the country, responded that Nigeria was producing enough food to feed itself and send to neighbouring countries. He also said there was no hunger in the country.
“We are producing enough to feed ourselves. I think there is no hunger in Nigeria; there could be inconveniences. When people talk about hunger in this government, I just laugh,” Nanono said.
Facts vs joke
The Ministry of Agriculture, under Nanono’s predecessor Audu Ogbeh, released Nigeria’s food production capacity to BusinessDay in 2017 and 2018.
The ministry’s data showed that Nigeria was the largest producer of yam, with an output of 40 million metric tons per annum (MTPA). However, yam demand in the country was 60 million (MTPA), leaving a gap of 20 million MTPA.
The country, according to the data, produced 42 million MTPA of cassava, but domestic demand for the crop was 53.8 million MTPA, leaving a gap of 11.8 million MTPA.
Similarly, the data said national supply for Irish potato was 900,000 MTPA, but market demand in Nigeria was 8 million MTPA—opening a gap of 7.1 million MTPA.
Also, local production of sweet potato was 1.2 million MTPA, while demand was 6 million MTPA, leaving a gap of 4.8 million MTPA.
The ministry’s data said Nigeria produced 400,000 MTPA of wheat annually while demand was 4 million MTPA, opening a gap of 3.6million MTPA.
According to the data, Nigeria’s ginger production as of 2018 was 310,000 MTPA, but demand was 650,000 MTPA, leaving a gap of 340,000 MTPA.
Maize production in the country was put at 10.5 million MTPA by the ministry while local demand was 15 million MTPA, leaving a gap of 4.5 million MTPA.
Again, local soybean production was 750,000 MTPA, but domestic demand was 2 million MTPA, meaning there was a supply gap of 1.250 million MTPA.
For Acha, local production was 78,000 MTPA while demand was 187,000 MTPA. This left the country with a gap of 109,000 MTPA.
The data further showed that sesame production was 200,000 MTPA while local demand was 600,000 MTPA, leaving a gap of 400,000 MTPA.
Local shea nut production was 200,000 MTPA, but Nigerians demanded 1.4 million MTPA. This left a gap of 1.2 million MTPA. According to the government ministry, castor production was 14,000 MTPA while demand was 510,000 MTPA, leaving a gap of 496,000 MTPA.
The data further said that Nigeria produced 2.5 million MTPA of tomato whereas the country needed 6 million MTPA of it to survive. This means there was a gap of 3.5 million MTPA.
Sorghum production in the country as of 2018 was 11 million MTPA while demand was 12.5 million MTPA, indicating a gap of 1.5 million MTPA.
According to farmers, all the gaps are filled with imports.
“We import food from West African neighbours, but we also export some despite not being sufficient in any crop,” Ifeanyi Okeleke, chief executive of Kenfrancis Farms, who plays in the poultry and cassava industries, said.
The noise about rice
Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, said on January 11 this year that his government’s ‘rice revolution’ has made Nigeria attain food sufficiency, especially in rice. Nanono, too, did not dispute his boss’ assertion. But facts contradict this position.
In 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture claimed that Nigeria’s rice production had risen to 5.3 million, MTPA from less than 4 million MTPA before 2015.
It admitted that local demand for rice was 7.2 million MTPA, with a supply gap of 1.9 million MTPA.
The Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) confirmed to BusinessDay on November 20, 2019, that rice production as of that day was 5.1 million MTPA, leaving a supply gap of 2.1 million MTPA.
Earlier this year, the United States Department of Agriculture, in its report, put Nigeria’s milled rice capacity in 2018/2019 at 4.78 million MTPA, as against 4.66 million MTPA in 2017/2018.
Have things changed in 2019?
Key players in the agriculture value chain said Nigeria is yet to attain sufficiency on any crop this year.
“Agriculture is not child’s play. You have to plant, manure, harvest and process. These take time. We are not sufficient in any crop yet,” Okeleke, earlier quoted, said.
Aminu Goronyo, national president, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, said farmers have been ramping up rice production. But he was quick to admit that supply for rice in the country is less than the demand.
Spotting low food production
After the closure of the Nigeria-Benin Republic Border in August, the price of rice rose dramatically. I visited Daleko Market, the biggest rice market in Lagos, on Friday, September 27, 2019. I found that the price of rice had risen dramatically.
“The price of a 50kg bag of local rice is N24,000 now,” Okedula told me.
“The price was around N15, 000 to N17,000 in July, but it has risen astronomically since the closure of Nigeria-Benin Republic border,” she said.
Bismarck Rewane, economist and chief executive of Lagos-based Financial Derivatives Company Limited, said high prices of food in Nigeria is an indication that the country is not producing enough food for a population growing at 2.6 percent every year.
“What informs rising food prices in Nigeria?” he asked, rhetorically, while explaining Nigeria’s inflation rate in 2017.
“It is either there is high demand for foods or that we are not producing enough. But the answer is that we are not producing enough,” Rewane said on Channels TV.
Data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on October 19, 2019, showed that Nigeria’s inflation in October rose from 11.24 percent in September to 11.61 percent in October, 2019.
Food inflation rose to 14.09 percent in October, compared with 13.51 percent in September. Inflation is a measure of price increases in an economy over a period, economists say. The NBS admitted that increases in prices of meat, fish, vegetables, bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and other tubers within the month drove up the food inflation rate. There was silence on the impact of an increase in rice price on food inflation.
“Nigeria imports virtually every food item from crayfish to cereals through the Nigeria-Benin border, and given that they are not produced in sufficient quantity in the country now, any attempt to close the border will drive up the prices,” Ike Ibeabuchi, a manufacturer and chief executive of MD Services Limited, said.
Poverty capital with no hungry mouths?
I visited Makoko, a slum in Lagos, where make-shift houses are built on still water. People hop into canoes to criss-cross this community.
On top of water, a woman, burdened by five children, beckoned on an egusi seller— to the excitement of one of her children.
“Children here go to bed without food,” Fashina Daramola, who lives there, told me.
“They are often excited whenever they see food,” Daramila said.
“We are poor and hungry in this community—most times without food, electricity and without the good things in life,” he further said.
The everyday experiences of Nigerians in Makoko and many communities contradict Nanono’s view that there is no hunger in the country, particularly in the administration in which he serves.
In June 2018, independent institutions World Poverty Clock and Brookings Institute said that Nigeria had replaced India as world poverty capital. Eighty-seven million people in the country, out of 200 million, now live on less than the extreme poverty benchmark of $1.90, their report said.
In July 2019, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative released the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). The report showed that 98 million Nigerians are in multidimensional poverty, which means they cannot afford good education, healthcare, cannot eat well and are exposed to the threat of violence and live in areas that are environmentally harmful, an expert definition says.
“Poor people are hungry and do not often have three meals in a day,” said Onyeka Ugbana, an economist.
A joint United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) report published on April 2, 2019, put Nigeria among the hungriest countries in the world, which also included Yemen, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Syria.
The report said 5.3 Nigerians faced food crisis or hunger in 2018.
“At the peak of the lean season, three million were acutely food insecure in the three north-eastern states affected by the Boko Haram insurgency where protracted conflict and mass displacement disrupted agriculture, trade, markets and livelihoods, and pushed up food prices,” the report said.
Other data that show hunger increasing
Unemployment figure released by the nation’s statistics agency NBS showed 18.8 percent of the Nigerian population were jobless as of the third quarter of 2017. The number rose to 23.1 percent in the third quarter of 2018, according to the NBS. As of the first quarter of 2015, before Buhari emerged as president, unemployment rate stood at 7.5 percent, according to the country’s statistics agency.
“A lot of people are becoming increasingly jobless. A jobless man has no food or any good thing in life. So, he is hungry,” said Ike Ibeabuchi, who was earlier quoted.
Steve Hanke, a professor of Applied Economics at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, released his Misery Index in 2018. He used critical indices such as unemployment, inflation and bank lending rates, in ranking countries in his index.
He ranked Nigeria as the 6th most miserable nation in the world with a Misery Index score of 43.0.
Minister Nano’s assertion on Nigeria’s food sufficiency is not supported by any fact. All data contradict his position. Also, his assumption that there is no hunger in Nigeria is wide of the mark, as all indices point to increase in unemployment and poverty in Nigeria, especially since the administration in which he serves came to power in 2015.