Food is as essential as oxygen to the human body, and it is one of the major indicators of poverty index. It is generally agreed that once hunger is out of it, poverty is almost conquered. One of the aims of a responsible government is to be able to “feed” its people. To be able to produce enough food for domestic consumption and reduce importation should be the aim of every government.
Over time, successive governments have mouthed the desire to take Nigeria back to its glory days of the 60s when beautiful groundnut pyramids adorned Kano landscape, cocoa and oil palm were planted in abundance in the West and East. When Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was elected in 2011 he set about cementing agriculture as both a way to reduce importation and increase exportation so that it becomes an alternative to crude oil as foreign exchange earner.
The President introduced The Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) as part of his “Transformation Agenda” which is a government-enabled private sector-led effort to grow agriculture in Nigeria. The agenda is aimed at making agriculture work for Nigerians especially rural farmers such that it becomes not just a development programme but also an income generating commercial activity. This comprehensive effort aims to increase domestic food production, reduce dependence on food imports and expand value addition to locally produced agricultural products.
Within his first 90 days in office, Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina worked out the idea of how to reduce corruption in the fertilizer distribution network. This was achieved by eradicating middlemen in the distribution chain who made subsidized fertilizer and seeds more expensive and beyond the reach of the farmers. Now, with the use of mobile Short Message Service (SMS) platform, farmers can get notifications on availability and the nearest point of service for collection of fertilizer and seeds under the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES). By 2015, over 15million farmers had been registered under this scheme. The E-wallet system is the first of its kind in Africa and already several African countries are introducing it in their system.
The government went further in trying to improve profitability of agriculture by introducing the Staple Crop Processing Zones (SCPZs). This is a major development project which is a critical component of the government’s ATA. It includes construction, development and operation in the agricultural production cycle. The main objective of the SCPZ is to facilitate agro-processing environments that will be used to attract private sector investments into the local production and processing of Nigerian agricultural produce, with the primary goal of substituting imports and adding value to local agriculture produce to serve the vast and growing local market. These SCPZs will be equipped with desirable infrastructure and services while the surrounding food production clusters will also be developed with the required operational infrastructure to ensure optimal productivity. The objective of the SCPZ is to reduce the cost of doing business for agro-processors to ensure their competitiveness, and to create ready markets for Nigerian farmers, thereby reducing post-harvest losses. The SCPZs therefore is to provide the missing link between agriculture and industrialisation. The SCPZ plan also includes the establishment of Agro-Industrial Towns around the SCPZs that will provide employment for millions of households in the surrounding areas. Ultimately, 14 SCPZs will be set up across Nigeria around rice, sorghum and other grains, cassava, fisheries, horticulture and livestock.
To drive the dry season rice production, government focused on massive expansion of small scale water management systems especially wash bores, tube wells and motorized pumps by farmers. This has boosted rice production as it rose by an additional 1.4 million metric tonnes in 2012, increasing by an additional 2.9 million metric tonnes in 2013 and expanded national rice production from 4.5million metric tonnes in 2011 to 9.2 million metric tonnes by 2014. In Kogi state for instance, over 7,000 hectares have been cultivated in the dry season, the first ever in the history of the state, which has increased employment rate according to the governor and citizens are even asking for more and to cultivate. In conjunction, the administration has completed silos across the country with a total capacity of 1.3 million metric tonnes. It is also working to establish centers where tractors can be accessed at reduced prices. There has also been an increase in the number of rice mills in the country from 1 before the launch of ATA in 2011 to 13 within three years of the launch
Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world with a total production of 40million metric tonnes. To further raise production, 24 million stems of improved cassava varieties were distributed to farmers. Through encouraged research and collaboration, 40% substitution of cassava flour for wheat flour in bread was achieved in partnership with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and the Federal Institute for Industrial Research, Oshodi Lagos. Export of dried cassava chips began in July 2012 and this was the first time Nigeria would achieve commercial scale export of dried chips which could earn the country $136million annually in foreign exchange. Nigeria under the administration has maintained the status of the largest the largest producer of cassava in the world with a new record of 34 million MT produced per annum.
The government also pumped in N54billion into cotton to aid the resuscitation of the upstream and downstream cotton/textile subsector before the end of 2013. Cotton production was also b revived in Ogun state with some 1200 hectares set aside for the planting season in 2012.
In Cocoa production, Nigeria experienced a 48% growth in cocoa production from 2011 (250,000 MT) to 2013 (370,000 MT) with earnings from export hitting about $900 million in 2013.The target for Cocoa production is to double production by 2015. To achieve this, 3.5 million pods of high-yield cocoa hybrids have been distributed to smallholder farmers – all free of charge – in addition to support for production inputs. The private sector has expanded its processing capacity for value addition to cocoa beans. The vision is for Nigeria to be making high quality chocolates for Africa.
The impact of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda has been huge for Nigeria. In less than two years, Nigeria has already produced an additional 9 million MT of food. At the same time, food imports have reduced by $5.3 billion with more than 2.7 million jobs created – 77% of the expected target. A few months ago, it was reported that Nigeria’s food import bill had dropped from N1.1tn ($6.9bn) in 2009 to N684.7bn ($4.35bn) in December 2013. That is a saving of over N400bn ($2.55bn). The sector also witnessed a turn around as the share of total bank lending expanded from about 2% in 2011 to 5% by 2013. Bank lending to seed companies and agro-input dealers expanded from $10 million in 2012 to $53 million in 2013; while bank lending to fertilizer companies expanded from $100 million in 2012 to $500 million by 2014.
While Many Nigerians have applauded the development in the nation’s agricultural sector, many are also of the view that the claims to a drop in the nations’ food import bill does not correspond with markets development as the prices of food and agricultural commodities have remained on the rise despite claims to huge gains in the sector. One would expect to see more of the Nigeria milled rice in the market, at least in larger quantities even if their market share is not yet as large as imported rice and at affordable prices too, at least cheaper than imported rice. With the recently reported row between the rice importers and the minister of agriculture, where the importers are bringing more rice than their allotted quota, one wonders when Nigerian rice will prevail over imported rice. What are the stringent measures in place to ensure their quotas are adhered to and even reduce the quota as local production increases? Also, the cassava bread that is being sung by the FG, one expects that there should be an influx of cassava bread in the market, but that is yet to be the case either. Where are the industries to help produce cassava into flour in the ratio 40% to 60% of cassava and wheat respectively? How many bakeries churn out cassava bread? How many people have tasted the bread?