After promising agric revolution, Buhari govt allowed N6trn vegetables into Nigeria

 AFTER promising to rejuvenate the Nigerian agriculture sector, former President Muhammadu Buhari allowed importers to run the show, bringing in vegetable products valued at N5.953 trillion during his ill-fated eight-year tenure.

The high level of vegetable products importation into Nigeria reflected the level of food scarcity across the country and the fact that agriculture policies initiated by Buhari were not effective, farmers said.

Economy Post found from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) records that the government saw vegetable importation rise from N413.609 billion in 2016 to a peak N1.351 trillion in 2021, before declining slightly to N1.313 trillion the following year.

So far in 2023, traders have imported vegetable products valued at N446.649 billion into Africa’s most populous nation formerly known for food production.

The interesting thing about the data is that vegetable importation jumped from N585.883 billion in 2019 to N749.387 billion in 2020 and to N1.351 trillion in 2021 and further to N1.313 trillion in 2022.

Vegetable products are not on the Nigeria Customs Service’s import prohibition list.

“Import is not bad for any economy. In fact, you need imports to broaden your trade. However, when you are not locally producing enough, especially food or medicines, you will one day be in trouble,” said an American-based Associate Professor of Economics, Dr Babatunde Anifowose.

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“So, the data you see suggest that food is being imported into the country, possibly from West African neighbours. This is, perhaps, the reason why food inflation has not reached 50 percent in Nigeria today. If you rely basically on what you produce in Nigeria, then food prices will be much higher. Again, it is an indication that a lot of harm has been done to farmers, especially in the northern region of the country due to Boko Haram and recently bandits. Insecurity in northern Nigeria is doing a lot of harm to farmers than good, and the government needs to wake up and smell the coffee,” he noted.

Crop production declining

Crop Production is the the major driver of the agriculture sector, accounting for 88 percent to 92 percent of the overall nominal value of the sector, according to the NBS. From the third quarter (Q3) of 2020 to the fourth quarter (Q4), crop production declined by 4.98 percent. Dataphyte reported that from the first quarter (Q1) of 2020 to Q1 of 2022, crop production fell by 47.2 percent. 

Apart from COVID-19, insecurity has been the major cause of declining food production, especially in the northern regions of Nigeria. A study by Usman Birat of Kaduna State University showed that the rising spate of kidnapping, terrorism, killings and banditry affected 97 percent of food production in a local government area in the state named Igabi.

Apart from insecurity, land in the country is not being put to proper use. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says Nigeria has 70.8 million hectares of agricultural land area but is not putting it to adequate use. Only 57 percent of the 6.7 million metric tons of rice consumed in Nigeria annually is locally produced. There is a rice deficit of about 3 million metric tons, which is either imported or smuggled into the country illegally, the FAO said.

“With a population estimated to hit 400 million by 2050, large food deficits remain a cardinal challenge to the food system, yet Nigeria has the potential to feed its growing population into the coming decades. This food self sufficiency can be attained, not only through production technologies but also by entrenching  sustainable and inclusive food systems in the structure, governance and administration,” FAO said in one of its reports.

A 2020 World Bank report entitled, “Nigeria: Food Smart Country Diagnostic,” said, “Productivity of the agriculture sector is lagging and could take many years to reach
its full potential. Increases in production levels of most major crops in Nigeria masks
the reality of stagnant or falling yields counteracted by increased land conversion and
area under cultivation.”

The dollar challenge

Nigeria is an import-dependent nation. Consequently, the majority of products used in-country are foreign products purchased with dollars. More so, being a mono-product economy, crude oil occupies more than 60 percent of the country’s foreign earnings.

Consequently, naira has taken the hit since 2014. At the parallel market where the majority of economic agents source their dollars, naira has weakened by 87 percent in nine years.

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From N175/$ in 2014, naira weakened to N1,300 in the last but one week of October 2023, in a depreciation that worried policy makers and analysts.

The central bank is eyeing new measures to strengthen the naira, but economists want the country to go to the basics.

“The country must start producing, ” said a university lecturer, Professor Uche Nwogwugwu.

“It is only by supporting the manufacturing sector that Nigeria can earn foreign exchange and reduce demand for forex,” he added.

Experts divided on food importation

Nigeria’s food inflation hit 30.64 percent in September 2023, pricing out the poor in one of the world’s poorest nations. Food inflation rose from 17.82 percent in January 2017 to its highest level in 18 years last month.

Prices of food items rise each week and households are feeling the pinch.

Some finance experts said importation of food products could reduce food inflation, but added that efforts must be made to raise local production .

“The biggest palliative is going to be reduction in inflation, and the government has not done that. The way to go is to import food over a limited period. Let food come in so that food inflation can come down,” said a finance expert, Mr Kalu Aja, in an interview with Economy Post.

However, an Anambra State-based farmer, Mr Daniel Orjiakor, cautioned that while food importation came mainly from West African countries, it was one of causes of currency crisis in the country.

“Yes, countries import food products, but importing vegetables is a bad advertisement for our nation. We grow a lot of these vegetables here and should export more.

“It is high time we understood that the biggest factor that could reduce currency crisis and food inflation is local production. Once you start producing, you provide alternatives to foreign products while reducing food prices and constant demand for dollars.”

Buhari’s failed policies

President Buhari came on board in 2015 with a promise to make Nigeria a major food hub. However, experts said he failed.

READ ALSO: Kalu Aja to Tinubu: Give families cash to spend, waive taxes, import food

Though Buhari boasted about boosting rice production, rice price has risen by nearly 350 percent in 9 years. The price of a 50kg bag of rice has risen from N9000 to N40,000 in nine years, yet the country did not make meaningful progress on other crops.

Dr Anifowose, who was earlier quoted, attributed it to his lack of capacity to deal with insecurity as well as his poor understanding of food economics.

“Most of his targets failed because he did not have the political will to deal with insecurity. Apart from nepotism which he deployed in handling insecurity issues, he was too narrow-minded.

“Secondly, he does not understand that shutting borders will only achieve two things: Raise local prices especially when production is still low and also build a cabal of billionaires who will sabotage the economy. So, his decision to shut the borders was ill-advised.”

An Akwa Ibom-based cocoa farmer, Ms Agnes Ikoro, said most agriculture funds during Buhari’s time were channelled to rice and to the North.

“The manner in which the funds were allocated cannot allow proper agriculture development to take place. They were acting as if rice was the only crop in Nigeria and they ignored several other crops, including cocoa. Secondly, when you asked about what they were doing, you would be told a lot was going on in the North.” she lamented.

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