In sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture has continued to occupy a prominent position in national economies as the sector not only serves as a key driver of growth, wealth creation and poverty reduction, aside been the leading economic activity across the African continent, the sector is said to contribute between 20 percent and 30 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Interestingly, Nigeria is blessed with an agriculture friendly climate, coastal and marine resources of over 960 kilometres of shoreline, expansive rivers and lakes covering 120,000 square kilometres and a large consumer market.
Despite her rich natural endowment, the sector has not been able to keep pace with rapid population growth as evident in the sad reality that the nation which once exported food, now relies heavily on imports to sustain itself.
Regrettably, Nigeria is still a net importer of agricultural products, as it imports N630 billion worth of fertiliser annually, a fact attested to by Sanusi Lamido, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor who added that Nigeria has lost its dominant position in the export of key agricultural crops like cocoa, groundnuts, groundnut oil and palm oil, since 1960.
“In the 1960s, Nigeria had over 60 percent of global palm oil exports, 30 percent of global groundnut exports, 20-30 percent of global groundnut oil exports and 15 percent of global cocoa exports. By 2000, Nigeria’s global share of exports of each of these crops was five percent or less,” Sanusi said.
Corroborating the view of the CBN governor, Akinwumi Adesina, minister of agriculture and rural development, disclosed that the Federal Government has spent N98 trillion on the importation of food in the last four years.
Adesiina who stated this while addressing the National Assembly during the ministerial screening stated that in 2010 alone, the nation spent a staggering N635 billion on wheat importation, another N35 trillion was spent on rice importation, N217 billion on sugar importation and N97 billion spent on fish importation.
While previous governments seem to have paid lip service towards developing the agricultural sector, stakeholders have called for concerted efforts by government to revamp the sector in a bid towards ensuring food security as well as changing the nation’s economic fortunes even as it continues its quest to become one of the 20 leading economies by 2020. Commenting on the issue, the minister of agriculture revealed that one of the problems facing the sector was the appalling level of financing in agriculture in comparison with other African nations. According to him, “Nigeria spends only 3 percent or less of her entire budget on agriculture. Other countries, much smaller than Nigeria, do much more. Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique spend between 10 percent to 15 percent and more on agriculture.”
The minister pointed out that agricultural productivity is low, as yields of farms in the country are extremely low, with the average yield of seed crops still at approximately one ton per hectare compared to the global average of five tons per hectare.
“As big as Nigeria is, only five percent of our farmers use modern seeds,” Adesina opined.
In terms of fertiliser usage, he pointed out that Nigeria is today using only 13kg per hectare of fertiliser. “Now the global average is 100kg, China is close to 400kg per hectare. Most of the food we produce comes from expanding cultivated areas, not from increasing productivity per unit area,” he said. He however blamed the problem of poor and rudimentary storage culture as another problem besetting the agricultural sector. He noted that a lot of what we produced is lost due to lack of proper storage and processing facilities, explaining that Nigeria farmers have been poor managers of agricultural resources due to poor planning. “Look at yams in Benue, big yams, but we are losing them because we don’t have any way of processing it. In Kadawa Valley in Kano, we were producing before about 630,000 metric tons of tomato. Today, we have 240,000 metric tons, why? Every day that tomato rots because there’s no cold storage, there is no processing. This discourages farmers. Yet, Nigeria is now the largest importer of tomato paste from China and Italy,” the minister noted.
He went further to state that Nigerian farmers have had a tough time with banks, as only 1 percent of total lending in banking sector goes to agriculture, a sector that accounts for 70 percent of employment opportunities and 44 percent of the nation’s GDP. Lending his view, BIsmark Rewane, economic analyst and managing director, Financial Derivatives, disclosed that the agricultural sector, which happens to be one of the sectors underperforming, can only be turned around with more seriousness on the part of policy makers in the country. Rewane pointed some of the challenges in the sector to include under-investment, low productivity, inadequate input, poor manpower and productivity, and an unfavourable exchange rate policy, among others.
Echoing the sentiments of the economic analyst, the CBN Governor stated that major challenges facing the sector include underfunded research and development; lack of infrastructure; threats from pests, diseases and climate change challenges, amongst others. While in defence of banks for their lack of interest in funding agricultural projects, Sanusi Lamido opined that the banking sector cannot invest in the sector because commodities values are yet to be fixed in the country, stressing that “it is difficult to fix the financial value chain until the nation can fix the commodity value chain.”
Furthermore, a BGL research report however identified improper implementation, corruption, structural imbalances in the economy, and political instability among others, as the major reason why previous intervention plans and related programmes and projects failed to have a substantial impact on the economy.