Despite the dependence on crude oil for economic sustainability, agriculture has always had a central role to play in the Nigerian psyche and economy. This can be seen in the various match programmes and slogans rolled out by successive governments to boost the sector, and aid in food self-sufficiency, security and productivity. From the Agricultural Development Programmes of the 1970s to the re-establishment of the National Agricultural Land Development Authority in 2016.
Even though the sector is largely characterised by smallholder farmers engaged in subsistence farming with inefficient production techniques manifested in technical and allocative inefficiencies, it still makes up nearly 25% of the country’s GDP. Nigeria’s agricultural sector is broadly divided into four sub-sectors: i) crop production; ii) forestry; iii) livestock; and iv) fisheries. Among these sub-sectors, crop production accounts for the largest segment in the industry with 87.6% of generated output, followed by livestock, fishery and forestry at a generated output of 8.1%, 3.2% and 1.1% respectively (NBS, 2019). There have been renewed efforts of the government as seen in the CBN Anchor Borrower Programme, Young Farmers Network Programme and international donor agencies such as the World Bank, USAID, IFAD, FAO etc to increase productivity along various agro value chains.
In the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, a litany of challenges have confronted players in the agriculture sector, especially crop producers. An indicative survey and in-depth interviews conducted by SBM Intelligence across seven (7) Nigerian states gave detailed insights into the challenges of farmers and food transporters in Nigeria.
It is time for state and federal governments to prevent even higher food prices across the country through various short and long term measures. In the immediate, the government must fully reopen land borders and end the ban on using forex to import staple crops. After placing maize on the list of items no longer eligible for foreign exchange only on 14 July 2020, the President announced the release of 30,000 tons of maize from emergency reserves on 2 September and also gave approval to four firms for the importation of 200,000 tons of maize, in what was an embarrassing about-face. This could replicate itself for items like rice and cassava in the coming months, items which millions of Nigerians depend for sustenance.
For the longer term, wider adoption of irrigation, facilitating the provision of early maturing and drought-resistant crop varieties and a switch to climate-smart agriculture is the best way to guard against crop failure and poor yields. In our survey, we asked farmers and transporters the changes they wanted to see in the coming months from the challenges they identified, most of them want the government to fix access roads and provide adequate transportation that is cheap, effective and efficient. An efficient rail system will reduce the cost of transporting farm produce to the markets and improve food security. Security remains paramount followed by access to land and irrigation infrastructure. Some of the other factors mentioned were financing and the availability of sizeable storage where most of their farm products can be stored. Away from the government, there are business opportunities for investors who would like to take up a dual role of solving the problem of food insecurity and generating profit.
In addition to these, transporters want some of their unique concerns met, like better roads, as well as put an end to multiple taxation and harassment by officials.
Apart from good road networks and enhanced security addressed above, they want the multiple taxes paid while transporting goods between states to be stopped or at least reduced. They also want the number of checkpoints on the road to be reduced, so as to stop harassment by security officials and local government officials.
Finally, it is high time the concept of ‘food self-sufficiency’ is finally abandoned for ‘food security’. The former is a policy that has only made food prices expensive. With rising food inflation, Nigerians cannot be said to be enjoying food security. At the end of the day, no one really cares where food comes from. People just want to eat.
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