OPINION

Is Nigeria Is On Its Way To Becoming A Global Food Basket? By Richard Ogundiya

Nigeria is a nation with several endowments, but yet there is still the threat of hunger and extreme poverty which requires urgent attention. In terms of quality and quantity, Nigeria is known worldwide for the production of several agricultural goods such as Cashew nuts, Cassava, Cocoa Beans, Ground Nuts, Gum Arabic, Kola nut, Melon, Millet, Palm kernels, Palm Oil, Plantain, Rice, Rubber, Sorghum, Soybeans, amongst others. The list abounds.

Yet our farmlands perform below expectations due to factors ranging from low fertiliser usage to poor farm management, insufficient financial access and market access. A strong and efficient agricultural sector would enable Nigeria to feed its growing population, generate employment, earn foreign exchange and provide raw materials for industries.

The good news is this: the strategy of using Agro- based industries for accelerated economic growth is slowly beginning to take shape and the Nigerian government, through private sector partnerships and investments is working to enable a strong and efficient agricultural sector to feed its growing population, generate employment and provide raw materials for industries. 

The Agro-allied industry is a collection of companies engaged in a high-scale 
production, processing, and packaging of food with the use of modern equipment and methods aimed at achieving these goals. Just like any other industry, the agro-allied industry has a positive relationship to economic development in 
Nigeria. Several million metric tonnes of agricultural products are exported every year; after a bumper harvest, reasonable amounts of these products get bad each year. A shortage in supply of these agricultural products is created, and the remaining products are sold at low prices in the international market, we then import these products back in a processed format but at higher prices. This practice is not economical, thereby depriving Nigerians of creativity and innovation in adding value to our agricultural products. It has discouraged economic growth and development as well as generated high unemployment rate by empowering foreign based agro-industries.

Nigeria’s ambitions for accelerated and inclusive economic growth are contingent on achieving a vibrant Agriculture sector that can support extensive down-the-line enterprise development and employment. Alongside job creation, Agro-industrial enterprises often provide crucial inputs and services to the farm sector for those with no access to such inputs, inducing productivity and product quality improvements and stimulating market induced innovation through chains and networks, facilitating linkages and allowing domestic and export markets to become mutually supportive.

During a meeting with a delegation of Chinese investors and other officials from the African Development Bank (AfDB) on August 6 2019, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN stated that ‘In line with its commitment to develop a thriving agro-industrial sector, the Federal Government will welcome partnerships and initiatives that would make Nigeria actualize its potential of being the food basket of the world’. Through the African Development Bank, the Chinese investors hope to commence the processes of investing in Nigeria’s agricultural sector under an initiative known as the Agro-Industrial initiative with focus on crop production, forestry, fishery, and livestock production.  

Prof. Oyebanji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka of the AfFB said the framework of the initiative is to develop a programme that leverages Nigeria’s comparative advantage in key areas of agricultural production. According to him, ‘the overall investment, under the initiative, amounts to between $16 billion to $25 billion over a period of four years with a strong government support and private sector leadership.’

The challenge of feeding Nigeria’s growing population, which is expected to reach 402 million people in 2050, requires new strategies and new multicultural and multisectorial rethinking, capable of generating new forms of dialogue, at different specialist levels, towards a more sustainable use of the available natural and human resources, to ensure food and nutrition security. Agro-industrial development can contribute to improved health and food security for the poor by increasing the overall availability, variety and nutritional value of food products, and enabling food to be stored as a reserve against times of shortage, ensuring that sufficient food is available and that essential nutrients are consumed throughout the year. This new development if implemented well will have a direct impact on the livelihoods of the poor both through increased employment in agro-industrial activities, and through increased demand for primary agricultural produce.

Vice-President Osinbajo believes that the proposed partnership, especially the agro-allied aspect of it will help deliver the kind of growth needed in Nigeria’s agricultural ecosystem. According to him, the FG and AfDB will ensure that the investors have no troubles in setting up and operating their businesses efficiently.

Agro opportunities abound in Nigeria. We have the 9th largest arable land in the world and most of that is still largely untouched. Nigeria’s potentials in this sector are limitless, thus becoming the food basket of the world may sound like a tall order, but it is not surmountable. That lofty goal will depend on how we are able to get high quality inputs, seedling and others, and how we are able to use technology especially the benefits of industrial agriculture to our advantage. Moves seen in the Buhari administration – from its revolutionary Anchor Borrower’s Programme, to other massive unprecedented investments from the likes of Olam to Friesland Campina WAMCO among others – show that Nigeria has left the realm of potential as it makes it way to reality, that indeed we have the capacity to be a global food basket. Consistency of policy and determination is however key to this ambition, else, all would be mere bark, no bite.

Richard Ogundiya is a journalist and researcher resident in Lagos.

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