Nigeria’s agric sector, many gains, greater challenges
The Agricultural Transformation Agenda of the current administration has made some commendable achievements. At least, there is some improvement in the local production of some crops such as cassava, rice, cashew and so on. Also, livestock and fish are being produced in greater quantities, not only by peasant farmers but professionals and students now take these up as a means of self-employment. Some investors with loose money to invest have also been investing in agribusinesses to increase their income streams due to the lost glory of the capital market and the fact that investment in real estate involves huge funds and long term returns.
This is because Akinwunmi Adesina, the current minister of agriculture has been able to change the perception of agriculture as the work the poor does for survival to a dignified business for the elite. The Agricultural Transformation Agenda of the Federal Government of Nigeria is the current government’s effort to revamp the agriculture sector, ensure food security, diversify the economy and enhance foreign exchange earnings. Therefore the Federal Ministry of agriculture under the leadership of the minister got state governments and various stakeholders involved in developing the agricultural value chains, launched the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) to ensure provision and availability of improved inputs (seeds and fertilizer), increased productivity and production, as well as the establishment of staple crop processing zones.
It also got international research institutes such as the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Lake Chad Research Institute involved in proffering solutions to the need to step up local production. There is greater backward integration by industries that utilise agricultural products as raw materials, some directly producing their raw materials while some support outgrowers’ scheme. During the last two years, the ministry through the minister has also been able to increase the access of farmers as well as other operators along the value chain to financial services and markets.
Though the creation of over 3.5 million jobs within a few years from the agricultural sector which the Federal Government has targeted is not yet fully realised, lots of jobs are truly being created.
But the sector is fraught with so many challenges. Inadequate infrastructure (poor electricity supply and bad roads) makes the cost of production very expensive for farmers and other businesses within the sector. Infrastructure challenge is the father of many of the other problems such as propensity to import, smuggling and so on in the sector. Though Nigerians are beginning to appreciate food produced within the country because they are nutritionally safer, locally produced food generally have a very hard time competing on price with cheap imports. Our infrastructure-challenged producers are competing with producers in countries with very adequate infrastructure support.
The average Nigerian now believes food produced in Nigeria is healthier but often times it is more rational for a consumer to buy the cheap imports if these average Nigerians want their small income to be sufficient to buy food before the next income comes in. The government have often used increased tariffs on imported food to make them more expensive and therefore give the locally produced food a better chance to compete. The funds realised from the tariffs are said to be used in developing local production of food. But increased tariffs usually leads to greater smuggling with neighbouring countries especially Benin Republic being the beneficiary at Nigeria’s expense.
The issue of poor electricity supply and bad roads which is the crux of the problems may have been over-flogged. But the inability of the government to ensure adequate infrastructure provision should continue to be flogged until adequate electricity supply and good roads become a reality. If local foods can be produced at prices competitive with equivalents from other countries, then smuggling will greatly reduce if not completely eliminated. Which sane Nigerian, even the very poor one, for instance, wants to eat chicken preserved with formaldehyde, a chemical used in preserving dead bodies in the morgue if the locally produced chicken can be sold at the same price that the smuggled one is sold? The government cannot claim to have tried enough as long as producers do not have adequate infrastructure support.