How Nigeria can grow agric-based economy
Francis Arinze Iloani
For Nigeria to survive crashing international oil price, depleting national revenues, devaluation of the Naira, high unemployment rate and skyrocketing poverty rate, the country must shift from oil-based economy to agric-based economy.
This forms the crust of discussions at the plenary session of the 1st Daily Trust Agric Conference and Exhibition held in Abuja on Tuesday.
The plenary on ‘How Agribusiness Can Impact Positively on Nigeria’s Economy’ was chaired by the Chairman of Honeywell Group, Dr. Oba Otudeko.
The panelists, comprising of speakers and discussants, agreed on the need to diversify the economy from its current state and actionable recommendations on how to build an agric-based economy were proposed.
The Managing Director of the Bank of Industry (BOA), Professor Danbala Danju, said food production in Africa, particularly in Nigeria, is not catching up with population explosion in the region unlike other parts of the world such as Southeast Asia.
He observed that although there has been 27 per cent reduction in the number of people who go to bed hungry in the last 10 years globally, the situation in Nigeria leaves much to be desired.
He pointed out to the conference that 32 per cent of people on the African continent still go to bed hungry, and Nigeria has a share of that startling statistics.
Professor Danju blamed food insufficiency in Nigeria on the neglect of the agricultural sector of the economy due to inflow of foreign exchange from crude oil sales.
He drew the attention of participants to social problems such as high fertility rate, high mortality rate, accelerated rural-urban migration, insecurity and population explosion in the country as part of the problem.
Establishing a relationship between relative declines in agricultural activities in the country with the insurgency in some parts of the country, Professor Danju cited examples with the Northeast where insurrection has affected farming activities remarkably.
As a way around Nigeria’s current $800m import bills, the professor recommended import substitution by replacing some imports selectively with what is produced locally.
“This will save us some foreign exchange and also provide employment, some income and in turn some markets for our domestic produced goods,” he said.
To grow the agric sector, he recommended community irrigation projects to be piloted in 10 states across the country for year-round agric activities made possible by irrigation and crop rotation.
If successful, he recommended further that the project should be replicated in other parts of the county to achieve the desired food sufficiency.
Doing justice to the theme of the plenary, the President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Arch. Ibrahim Kabiru, reminded participants at the conference that Nigerians attended schools in the 1960s with the proceeds from agric activities, regretting that oil boom turned the attention of successive governments away from the sector.
“It is my candid opinion that a nation colonised because of its agricultural potentials should not suddenly abandon that for merely discovering oil,” he said.
Speaking from the perspective of a farmer, he pointed out that access to finance has been a major challenge to the farming community.
“If the majority of the Nigerian farmers, whose population accounts for 70 per cent of the national population systematically get out of the shackles of poverty and attain food security, Nigeria will automatically prosper as a nation,” he said.
He recommended that government must address the issue of land tenure and documentation of ownership, adding that a situation where a farmer has a land in somewhere but cannot use the same land to obtain a loan from a bank because he has no Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) is unacceptable.
Arch. Kabiru made a case for the adoption of agro-ecological and biotechnological innovations for the development of the agric sector of the economy.
The President of the Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr. Victor Halim Iyama, told the conference that agriculture can generate $100bn to $200bn per year if the right policies are put in place.
Citing further example, he said $39bn can be generated from oil palm alone per year, adding that neglect has not allowed the crop to reach its potentials in terms of revenue generation for the country.
Dr. Iyama lamented that there has been more talk and less action over the years on how to grow agribusiness in the country.
He said the country is not bereft of ideas on how to turnaround the woos of the economy using agribusiness except that the ideas are locked up in files domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development due to non-implementation.
Corroborating previous speakers, he agreed that oil boom corrupted structures put in place over the years for the development of the agricultural sector of the economy.
He observed that inconsistency in government policies such as the recent lifting of the ban on rice importation and inadequate funding of research institutes compound the problems militating against agribusiness in the country.
The discussion session of the plenary held participants spellbound as discussants made revealing pronouncements.
The Co-ordinator, Agribusiness Community of Agricultural Stakeholders of Nigeria, Mr. Sotonye Anga, revealed that in a year, Nigeria spends N6.2trn on food, calculated based on N100 per person per day.
He said with projections on population growth, the amount will skyrocket to N12trn per year just for feeding in the nearest future.
Mr Anga said for the country to meet up with the demand and avoid losing the monies to other countries through importation of food, farmers must be empowered to produce what Nigerians consume domestically.
A rice farmer, Mr. Rotimi Williams, said the policy inconsistency with the lift on ban of rice importation makes sense on a second thought as this will reduce rice smuggling and earn the federal government some revenues.
He said in 2012 when government increased rice import duty by about 100 per cent, two million tons of parboiled rice was imported into Cottonu and most of them were smuggled into the country as Nigerians are the people in the area that consume parboiled rice.
“All that rice came into Nigeria with no duty, nothing and I also understand and know from the borders that monies were exchanged per bag between N1,500 to N2,000 and that’s N60bn in cash,” he said.
He however expressed concern with what government intends to do with the monies to be generated from the import duty on rice, adding that such monies should be channelled into the development of local rice production.
In his submissions, an Agric Consultant, Engr. Shedrack Madilon, noted that one way to fix some of the problems being witnessed in the agribusiness is to fix the problem in the northeast of the country.
He said the region used to be one of the major suppliers of foods consumed in the country but the insurgency in the region has affected the supply of beans and other products from Biu, Potiskum, Marte and Gasua to other parts of the country.
He lamented that currently, 114 silos across the country are empty due to declining supplies of agricultural produce.
Decrying the dearth of agric extension officers in the country, he said there are 175 farmers to one officer, a situation which has made competition with farmers in other parts of the world impossible.
Engr. Madilon called on government to provide farmers with extension officers, new improved seeds and other necessary supports for them to thrive and make good returns from farming business.
From left: Mr. Bode Opadokun, MD, Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation, Mrs Zaheera Baba-Ari, MD, Nigeria Commondity Exchange and Dr. Innocent Okuku, Group head of commercial, Notore Chemical Industries all speakers at Day 2 of the Daily Trust Agric confab in Abuja yesterday.