The recent announcement by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that Nigeria had saved over $21 billion on food imports in the last three years has shown that the nation’s quest to prioritise agriculture is a step in the right direction. Taiwo Hassan writes.
Indeed, statistics from various key government agencies, such as the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and others, had shown that the non-oil sector of the economy has been the driving force of Nigeria’s economy in recent times. And particularly, agriculture is one of the sector that saw a huge turnaround, in line with the present administration’s diversification agenda to revamp the sector by bringing it to the front burner as the ‘next level’ in the heart of Nigerian economy. This is also geared towards using agriculture to replace crude oil, which had been over relied on as Nigeria’s cash cow.
In fact, the reason for this present administration to change the paradigm of the country’s national economic development by ignoring crude oil and pursue vigorously agriculture development may not be unconnected to the fact that when it came to power, there was a sharp decline in the price of crude oil at the international market in 2015, which hit the Nigeria economy hard.
However, when the regime’s blueprint for Nigeria’s economic development was unveiled, it categorically stated that it would prioritize agriculture and sustain backward integration programme by looking inward towards promoting self-sufficiency economy. Thus, the multiplier effects was felt by Nigerians.
With the Federal Government’s economic blueprint already in place, the Economic Team of the Buhari’s administration worked assiduously towards promoting the diversification agenda programme it adopted where agriculture was at epicenter and given the necessary support and funding to change the mindset of Nigerians away from crude oil as the highest revenue earner for the country.
Leading the regime’s ‘change mantra’ towards the ‘next level’ in Nigerian economy that period was the CBN, when it came up with the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme for rice production and the 41 items prohibition list, which banned importers from foreign exchange window. This was in a bid to encourage local content.
It is on record that the CBN under its Governor, Godwin Emefiele, saved Nigeria’s economy from going under, because of its proactive monetary policy, which tailored and projected Nigeria as an agrarian state economy and discouraged foreign imports of goods.
Basically, under the ABP programme, the apex bank had set-aside N40 billion out of the N220 billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund (MSMEF) given to farmers at single digit interest rate of maximum nine per cent per annum in 2015 as part of the efforts to boost rice production and also make Nigeria a net exporter of rice. This noble initiative by the CBN is still a talking point in l Nigeria’s rice revolution that has seen other African countries coming to understudy the banking watchdog’s model.
In fact, the ABP is the game changer that put Nigeria’s rebirth economically, as it empowered local farmers and attracted blue chip companies to invest in rice production.
Speaking on the 41 items, Emefiele said although, the policy was restrictive of trade but it was necessary to protect the Nigerian economy from the importation of items that could dampen the local production and economic growth.
According to him, the implementation of forex policy to restrict importers of certain items access to foreign exchange from the country’s forex market led to improvements in the domestic production of those items and a reduction in Nigeria’s import bill.
Continent’s food imports saga
However, it is no longer news that Nigeria and other countries in the continent are spending about $35 billion annually on food imports. Ironically, this huge food imports spending basically develops other continent’s economies at the detriment of Africa.
Interestingly, it has been predicted that Africa is estimated to spend $110 billion by 2030 on food imports if it did not make concerted efforts to look inward economically and stop foreign food imports.
Out of the $35 billion annual food imports spending, Nigeria is responsible for $22 billion and this shows that the country is at the epicenter in changing the paradigm on the continent’s food imports. This is the reason the African Development Bank (AfDB) and others have been clamouring that leaders of African countries must start looking inward to promote their agro-allied sector and discourage dependency on food imports globally because it is not helping the continent’s economy economically.
President of African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwumi Adesina, rued it is unacceptable for Nigeria and others in the continent to be spending $35 billion annually on food imports.
The AfDB chief, therefore, called for land tax for unused agricultural land, to provide incentives for faster commercialisation of agriculture and unlocking its potential in Africa.
Adesina said Africa held the key for feeding nine billion people by 2050, adding that more than ever before, the world must help Africa to rapidly modernise its agriculture and unlock its full potential.
According to him, the challenge of addressing global food security is the greatest in Africa. He said that close to 300 million were malnourished on the continent due to this challenge.
According to him, Africa is the only region of the world where its proportion of the population that is food insecure is on the increase.
“There is therefore absolutely no reason for Africa to be a food importing region. Africa has huge potential in agriculture, but, as Dr. Borlaug used to say, nobody eats potential,” he said.
“Unlocking that potential, we must start with the Savannah of Africa, which covers mind boggling 600 million hectares of which 400 million hectares are cultivable.
“Africa sits on 65 per cent of the uncultivated arable land left in the world, so what Africa does with agriculture will determine the future of food in the world.
“African farmers need more than a helping hand. They need a policy lift”.
Nigeria’s food imports cut
With controversy still raging over the true state of the Federal Government’s local rice policy and importation, the apex bank Governor, however, revealed a damning figure on the country’s food imports cut of the present regime since coming to power.
He said that Nigeria’s monthly food import bill fell from $665.4 million in January 2015 to $160.4 million as of October 2018.
Emefiele explained that the reductions in food imports were recorded on rice, fish, milk, sugar and wheat, adding that the policy would be maintained.
“Noticeable declines were steadily recorded in our monthly food import bill from $665.4 million in January 2015 to $160.4 million as at October 2018,” he said. “A cumulative fall of 75.9 per cent and an implied savings of over $21 billion on food imports alone over that period.
“Most evident were the 97.3 per cent cumulative reduction in monthly rice import bills, 99.6 per cent in fish, 81.3 per cent in milk, 63.7 per cent in sugar, and 60.5 per cent in wheat.
“We are glad with the accomplishments recorded so far. Accordingly, this policy is expected to continue with vigour until the underlying imbalances within the Nigerian economy have been fully resolved’.
Emefiele’s position on ABP
In the agriculture sector, he added that the Anchor Borrower Programme had ensured that Nigeria emerged from being a net importer of rice to becoming a major producer of rice, supplying key markets in neighbouring countries.
As at last October, he said a total number of 862,069 farmers cultivating about 835,239 hectares, across 16 different commodities, had so far benefited from the Anchor Borrowers programme, which had generated 2,502,675 jobs across the country.
“It is in light of the success of the Anchor Borrowers Program with regards to cultivation of rice and maize that the Monetary Policy Committee in its last meeting on the 21st of November, 2018 recommended that the Anchor Borrowers program be applied to other areas such as palm oil, tomatoes and fisheries to mention a few,” Emefiele said.
However, President Muhammadu Buhari has lauded Nigerians for curbing excessive taste for foreign products.
The new development, he said, has positioned the country for food self-sufficiency and resulted in saving over $21 billion.
The President, in a statement by the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said the humongous savings would be deployed to other critical areas such as infrastructure, education, healthcare and many others.
From the forgoing, it indicates that there is a new vista in agriculture development in Nigeria, even though hunger is still prevalent in many households, which find it difficult to eat three square meals daily.
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