Policy inconsistency and lack of political will are some of the reasons why the much-touted goal for food security remains a mirage
The revelation did not come as a surprise to many Nigerians. For a long time, people know that things are no longer at ease in the agricultural sector. It is also an undeniable fact that the country has become one of the largest importers of food in the world. So, when Akinwunmi Adesina, minister of agriculture and natural resources, announced Monday, July 18, that Nigeria had spent N98 trillion on food importation between 2007 and 2010, only few Nigerians got startled by the news. Going by the minister’s breakdown on the amount the country invested on each food category, it is clear that the country is a “huge consumer nation” as he described it. In 2010 alone, Nigeria spent a huge sum of N635 billion on wheat importation; N356 billion on rice importation and N217 billion on sugar in the same year. If that sounds scandalous, the minister also regretted that though endowed with massive aquatic resources, Nigeria also invests N97 billion on fish importation. Such a development, he said, is unacceptable for a country that was hitherto known for its viable and diversified economy and which was an exporter of certain food products in the years past.
As Adesina recalled while addressing senior management staff of the ministry last week, Nigeria, in the 1960s operated a mixed economy that made it the world’s largest exporter of groundnuts and palm produce and the third largest producer and exporter of cocoa. Specifically, he said Nigeria at the time accounted for 60 per cent of the global supply of palm oil, 30 per cent supply of groundnut and 15 per cent of cocoa supply. The diversity of these natural resources also gave each region of the country a mark of identity. For example, palm produce was grown in the coastal Eastern Region; cocoa in the Western Region and groundnut was largely grown in the Northern Region. To keep their identities, government of each region frantically made efforts to ensure that it was not outdone by others. Regrettably however, such a competition has since gone with the wind following the discovery of oil in the 1970s. The consequences, as some analysts have pointed out, include skyrocketing unemployment rate, food crisis, inflation, corruption and poor attitude to work, as governments of the 36 states of the federation now rely on federal allocation from oil revenue to run their states.
The dependent of Nigeria on importation of food, without taking any pragmatic step to reclaim the lost glory in the nation’s agricultural sector, is already taking its toll on citizens as inflation keeps to the fast lane. Nigerians bemoan the persistent increase in food prices, stressing that cost of certain products in the market have gone up by 300 per cent from January. Few months ago, the prices of all brands of bread have increased by N20 and N50. The Nigerian Bakers Association has premised the price increase on the high cost of wheat importation. This is also a hard time for housewives. Regina Odia, housewife and a primary school teacher, told the magazine that she now makes stew every week with palm fruits since N500 worth of fresh tomatoes is no longer enough for her five-member family. A clear steer from the meat market also does not guarantee a safe landing in the fish market. Currently, a kilogramme of Titus fish goes for N650 as against N400 that was the price last March. For those who like sardine, the canned fish does not come cheap either. A tin now sells for N250.
Obviously, Nigeria has no reason to import a larger chunk of its consumer foods if all the past agricultural programmes by successive governments had been implemented to the letter. For example, the second National Economic Plan (1970-74) initiated by the Yakubu Gowon administration made agriculture a priority. In 1972, Gowon’s administration introduced the National Accelerated Food Production Programme, NAFPP and the Nigerian Agricultural and Cooperative Bank, entirely devoted to funding agriculture. During his tenure as a military head of state between 1975 and 1979, General Olusegun Obasanjo initiated a popular agricultural scheme called Operation Feed the Nation, OFN and abandoned the Gowon programme. The same was the case when Shehu Shagari came to power in 1979 as the first elected president of Nigeria, and shelved Obasanjo’s OFN for his Green Revolution programme, which had the twin objectives of curtailing food importation while boosting crop and fibre production. But the greenness of the Shagari’s revolution soon turned red when General Muhammad Buhari grabbed the reins of power in 1983 and introduced the Back to Land programme with variations. His programme soon gave rise to similar programmes at the state level with Fidelis Oyakhilome, the former Rivers State governor introducing School to Land programme while his Lagos State counterpart, Gbolahan Mudasiru, initiated the Graduates Farming Scheme. But like the previous programmes, the Back to Land programme did not last long. In 1986, General Ibrahim Babangida, former military president, established the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure, DFRRI. The programme was meant to provide feeder roads, electricity and potable water and toilet facilities for the rural dwellers. It was primarily designed to create the necessary infrastructure to encourage agricultural practice and ease the movement of the products of farming to the urban centres. According to reports, the project gulped N1.9 billion. Yet, rural dwellers had no access roads to their farms.
Apparently appalled by the unfruitful nature of the various agricultural programmes that failed to tame the hunger in the land, coupled with his resolve to change the trend, Obasanjo on his return to office in 1999, made an emergency declaration on agriculture, but particularly on cassava production. To achieve his target, the former president in 2002, introduced the Presidential Cassava Initiative with a view to generating about N15 billion annual revenue into the nation’s coffers. The aim of the cassava campaign was to put Nigeria’s economy in the context of global competition. In 2005, Obasanjo directed a mandatory 10 per cent of cassava flour content for local consumption through confectionery and baked products. To an extent, the former president achieved his target, as Nigeria in 2007 became the number one producer of cassava in the world. During the period, the country made N635 billion annually from cassava export. Following the vibrancy brought into agriculture at the time, Effiong Bob, a senator and then chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, said agriculture was an alternative to oil. But that was then.
Now, Nigeria is no longer a major player in cassava production as government has again relaxed its effort in pushing the agricultural sector forward. A change in government in 2007 also resulted in a change in government policy in agriculture. This is one problem identified by analysts as an obstacle to the development of the sector. No matter how promising an existing programme, successive governments find solace in discarding and replacing them with new ones they initiated.
Now, the new agriculture minister has expressed his readiness to inject new life into the sector. To bridge the gap of food supply and demand in the country and ensure a true revolution in the sector, Nigerians are watching to see whether the Goodluck Jonathan government has what it takes to shrink the volume of Nigeria’s food importation.