By Abdulkareem Mojeed
In 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari took office, he promised to diversify Nigeria’s oil-dominated economy by investing more in agriculture and encouraging farming. He urged Nigerians to “grow what they eat, and eat what they grow,” to boost food self-sufficiency and increase foreign exchange earnings.
Available data suggest the country improved marginally in the production of key food in 2021.
Nigeria’s rice production rose from 4.89 million metric tonnes in 2020 to 5.0 million metric tonnes in 2021, data from the United States Department of Agriculture showed.
Also, the data shows that Nigeria’s maize production increased from 10.0 million metric tonnes produced in 2020 to 11.6 million metric tonnes in 2021.
Wheat production, a key raw material for bread production, rose to 99.0 million metric tonnes (80 per cent) from 55.0 million metric tonnes recorded last year.
Nigeria imported 6.0 million metric tonnes of wheat in 2021, an 8.9 per cent decrease from the 6.6 million metric tonnes imported in 2020.
In spite of these, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, said only 57 per cent of the 6.7 million metric tonnes of rice consumed in Nigeria annually is locally produced, leading to a deficit of about 2 million metric tonnes, which is either imported or smuggled into the country illegally.
The prices of bread was on a steady rise in 2021. In Abuja for instance, bread sold for N500 last year is currently being sold for N700 (40 per cent price increase).
There lie the contradictions.
The government says it has invested substantially in agriculture, but its interventions are yet to profoundly manifest in the country’s status of food security.
This is evident in Nigeria’s current state of food availability, affordability and accessibility.
The cost of food since the beginning of 2021 had been on a steady rise. Food prices touched the highest levels ever recorded in the country’s history last year, leaving millions of citizens struggling to buy food.
Besides several other factors that affected the sector in 2021, insecurity spiralled in many parts of the country, depriving farmers access to their farms and sending food prices skywards. Poultry is one of the worst sectors.
“We feel very very bad this year. Seventy per cent of farms are closed down already for fear of being kidnapped, because most farms are located on the outskirts of the city,” said Timothy Okunade, a poultry farmer based in Kaduna.
Mr Okunade said production has suffered as a result, some poultry feed millers are now producing substandard meals.
“As we speak, I have closed down my poultry farm for security reasons and due to a significant spike in the cost of livestock feed formulation ingredients,” the farmer lamented.
Mr Okunade said the cost of maize per tonne rose to over N300,000 at the beginning of this year, which later dropped to N130,000 and N180,000 per tonnes respectively during harvest, but that it is currently selling at N202,000 per tonne.
“Soya(bean) is selling at N350,000 per tonne, which is an average of N3,500 per Kg. We don’t have enough soya in the country and we are still exporting and it is affecting us negatively,” he said.
Simon Irtwange, the national president of the Association of Yam Farmers, Processors, and Marketers, said the insecurity last year affected crop production and value addition pursuits.
“The insecurity crisis badly affected production, farmers are scared of going into the interior to farm. Hence, adopting the domestic way of farming yam — bag or sack farming,” he said.
At the level of value addition, Mr Irtwange said, “when we don’t even have enough at the level of production, value addition becomes a problem.”
He said while the emergence of the COVID‐19 virus last year made many to embrace farming, the spate of insecurity in 2021 prevented farmers from accessing their farms for fear of being kidnapped or killed.
“We were not able to have a good harvest,” he added, saying the significant spike in the prices of food also prevented commodity buyers from doing so.
“As we speak, even people who usually buy commodities to store cannot do so because of the surge in prices,” Mr Irtwange said.
However, the farmer said there is a glimmer of hope for yam exportation in 2022 because the commodity, alongside rice, sorghum and cassava had been removed from the prohibition list of crops to be exported.
Also, lack of good policies, mismanagement of funds and lack of coordination, and poor leadership at the agriculture ministry affected the sector negatively in 2021.
Mr Buhari in September sacked the then Minister of Agriculture, Sabo Nanono, after an ‘independent and critical self-review,’ of the president’s cabinet revealed ‘weak areas’ under his watch.
He redeployed Mohammad Abubakar, the then Minister of Environment, to assume office as the Minister of Agriculture & Rural Development.
Razaq Fatai, a policy manager with One Campaign, said Nigeria’s agricultural sector has continued to underperform since COVID-19 hit in 2020, and that while food production somewhat increased in 2021, existing pre-pandemic bottlenecks still held back our progress.
He said insecurity became worse and policy measures had been ineffective in curbing rising food prices, which pushed food inflation to its peak in 15 years.
“Food is becoming increasingly unaffordable – food inflation reached the highest level in 15 years. The necessary conditions for sustainable agricultural transformation are still missing. The adoption of improved seed and quality inputs is still shallow,” Mr Fatai said.
The policy manager noted that agricultural productivity output per unit of land used is still far below the levels in other countries and that a significant share of our food is still being wasted along the value chains.
To accelerate agricultural transformation, Mr Fatai said the Nigerian government must help agribusinesses thrive through the provision of adequate security to traders and key farm settlements should be a priority in 2022.
“Additionally, the government must invest in measures that will increase the usage of quality inputs, reduce food wastage, and deepen private sector financing for food systems,” he added.