Nigeria wobbles in food production at 59 as experts point way forward

From the reliable data available on food production level in Nigeria today, and considering the preponderance of poverty as hinted by the Word Bank and other international agencies, Nigeria still wobbles in food production 59 years after its political freedom from Britain in 1960.

Nigeria’s contemporaries, such as India, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, have moved faster, becoming more food-secure and industrialised while Nigeria struggles with food sufficiency, power failure and infrastructural deficiency.

Crop production, livestock, agro-forestry, aquaculture and wildlife are areas of agriculture that, if maximised, are used to tackle multiple socio-economic challenges of food insecurity, malnutrition, poverty, unemployment and poor industrialisation.

Historically, Lord Fredrick Lugard, in 1914, amalgamated the Lagos colony and Southern Nigeria with Northern protectorate to form a single colony called protectorate of Nigeria.

From the southern to the northern protectorates, farming was predominantly the occupation of Nigerians and food was in excess. The country could feed itself. Though the population was smaller, means of food production were cruder, and mechanisation was very remote.

Food production in the colonial era
Despite the repressive colonial administration, Nigeria was at the forefront of oil palm, cocoa, cashew and groundnut production before independence in 1960 and a few years after.

As part of the colonial administration’s efforts to rev up food production scientifically, the Department of Botanical Research was established in 1893 and over 10 square kilometers of land was acquired at Moor Plantation in Ibadan for cotton production in 1905.

The establishment of the Department of Agriculture in the North in 1912 and the establishment of Central Department of Agriculture after the Amalgamation of 1914 put Nigeria on a steady path to agricultural development before independence. The establishment and effective management of these departments boosted production of crops.

“During its first decade of independence, Nigeria was one of the world’s most promising agricultural producers. Regionally focused policies based on the economic principle of commodity comparative advantage ensured that the agricultural sector served as the nation’s main source of food and livelihoods.

“Nigeria was not only agriculturally self-sufficient and food secure, but it thrived in global markets as the world’s largest producer of groundnuts and palm oil and as a significant producer of cotton and cocoa,” Jennifer Cooke, Senior Associate in the Office of the President, the United States of America (USA), commented in an article.

State of food production today
Notwithstanding the reality that the population of the country is aggressively growing above 200 million humans, Nigeria’s food production capacity has remained stagnated, or at best moving too slowly.

Major factors responsible for the slow rate of growth in the sector have been identified as poor capacity and productivity of farmers, dependence on old-fashioned tools, lack and poor adoption of modern technologies, and non-inclusive agricultural financing system. Small-scale farmers, who are in the majority, have been operating at the mercies of weather, middlemen and creditors, under the influence of pests and diseases and, have been operating mostly at deficits.

Food production data, except for a few crops like cassava, yam and cashew, has indicated that the country is a net importer of both industrial and food crops.

On wheat production, available data indicates that Nigeria produces about 100,000 metric tonnes while it consumes four million metric tonnes, with a deficit of 3.9 million tonnes yearly.

Also, world rice production and consumption data made available by the US Department of Agriculture shows that Nigeria has been and will be rice deficient beyond 2020 despite the claim by the Federal Government that the country is rice sufficient.

In 2016, Nigeria produced 3.94 million metric tonnes of rice; 4.41 million tonnes in 2017; 4.66 million tonnes in 2018; 4.79 million tonnes and 4.90 million tonnes are expected in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

The consumption figures indicate that Nigeria consumed 6.40 million metric tonnes of rice in 2016; 6.70 million in 2017; 7.10 million in 2018; and is expected to, by the end of 2019, consume 7.20 million and in 2020, 7.30 million tonnes of rice. And, rice production shortfall for this year is predicted to be 3.12 million tonnes while in 2020, it will be 3.21 million tonnes.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said Nigeria is still the largest rice importer in Africa, importing on average about 2 million tonnes per year, saying, “Despite the above-average 2017 production, import requirements for the 2017/2018 marketing year are set at 7.8 million tonnes, with an increase by about 7 per cent compared to the previous year and about 6 per cent above the average due to higher demand for human and industrial use. However, field reports indicate that the country’s capacity to import cereals (mostly rice and wheat) will be limited due to insufficient foreign exchange availability,” FAO had warned.

Maize, a crop used for direct food and industrial production in Nigeria, has been in short supply for several years despite the capacity of the country to produce all it requires.

Data from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) implies that Nigeria needs approximately 16 million metric tonnes of maize yearly, but it produces about 12 million tonnes.
There is a production shortfall of about four million tonnes and, and according to a maize specialist at IITA, Professor Sam Ajala, the country requires eight million tonnes to close the gap and become maize secure.

Sugar is also in serious short supply locally. The yearly demand is estimated to be 1.5 million, while the country produces less than 10 per cent of the demand.

Nigeria needs 8 million hectares of farmland and a minimum of 24 million fully engaged workers to produce the annual national citrus juice deficit, estimated to be 415 million litres.

Apart from that, the country is unable to meet its home demand for citrus juice despite the presence of all factors of production, Dr Adeoye Afolayan, Director of Research and Development at the National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), Ibadan, Oyo State, has disclosed.

The national production of citrus is estimated at 135 million litres of orange juice, while the demand is 550 million litres.

“We have 3.4 million metric tonnes of citrus currently being produced in Nigeria, covering 3 million hectares of land. The 3.4 million tonnes will result in 135 million littles of juice. But the current demand in Nigeria is 550 million metric littres of juice,” Afolayan had disclosed to The Guardian.

The researcher said eight million hectares of farmland would be required to be put into cultivation in the next three years to close the gap, and more would have to be done to meet up with the expected rise in demand.

Nigeria was a leading producer of palm oil in the before and after independence, but the country currently produces roughly a million tonnes of palm oil yearly.

Managing Director, Aden River Estate Ltd, Edo State, President of Plantation Owners Forum of Nigeria (POFON), Mr Emmanuel Ibru, based on the data available to the forum, said crude palm oil consumption is about 1.4 million tonnes. So, there is a demand gap of between 400,000 and 500,000 metric tonnes.

The agro-ecological resources to produce palm oil are available, but policy and investment financing challenges have hampered the development of the industry, and robbed the country of the benefits of being the largest producer of the product in the world.

Executive Director of the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) in Benin City, Dr Celestine Ikuenobe, while explaining why the country had remained stagnant in palm oil production, said, “We did not grow because people were just doing it as a personal business and after the civil war, we did not expand. But Malaysians had a strategic plan in 1956 to expand the industry and because they had the land, they started expanding.

“They had the expansion, but we were not expanding. We were relying mostly on the wild groves and then don’t also forget that in Nigeria, we have land tenure problem but there, they don’t have that.”

Malaysians are doing it as a business with big corporations, he argued, and big corporations require land, but in Nigeria, it is difficult for big corporations to acquire land.

“In Malaysia, 18,000 hectares are like a small-holding farm business. In Nigeria, it was small businesses that ran oil palm. It is only now that big corporations are trying to do it,” he said.

He added that Malaysia has over six million hectares under improved oil palm cultivation and Nigeria has about 600,000 hectares, saying, “You cannot compare. It is not because they came to collect the first seed, but because they have been doing it as a business, expanding and developing the entire value chains.”

Managing Director of Agrecourse, Mr Ayoola Oluga, said food production levels are currently lower than what are required in Nigeria. In the past few years, he added, food production has not kept pace with population growth and there is the urgent need to remedy the situation.

“Measures,” he said, “like access to credit should be put in place for smallholder farmers so that they can increase their farming operations. This will significantly boost production.”

President of the Agricultural Policy Research Network (APRINET), Dr Anthony Onoja, recently said the agricultural promotion policy of the government had failed. He added that though there had been a bit of increase in food production, especially cassava, inability of farmers to transport the roots to the market due to bad road networks and high cost of transportation had led to a glut of the product and underutilisation.

Onoja maintained that to make agricultural policies relevant, farmers and the intended users should be carried along, saying any agricultural policies that did not involve the farmers would not succeed.

Challenges of the sector
FAO affirms the various challenges that have been identified by stakeholders, saying, “The sector faces many challenges, notably an outdated land tenure system that constrains access to land (1.8 ha/farming household), a very low level of irrigation development (less than 1 percent of cropped land under irrigation), limited adoption of research findings and technologies, high cost of farm inputs, poor access to credit, inefficient fertiliser procurement and distribution, inadequate storage facilities and poor access to markets have all combined to keep agricultural productivity low (average of 1.2 metric tons of cereals/ha) with high postharvest losses and waste.”

These hurdles, the UN organisation said, have significantly stifled the performance of the sector. Over the past 20 years, value-added per capita in agriculture has risen by less than 1 per cent yearly, it added.

Moreover, the country is the largest producer of cassava in the world, with about 50 million metric tonnes yearly from a cultivated area of about 3.7 million hectares. Nigeria accounts for cassava production of up to 20 per cent of the world, about 34 per cent of Africa’s and about 46 per cent of West Africa’s. The national average yield of cassava is estimated at about 13.63 MT per ha, as against potential yield of up to 40 metric tonnes per hectare.

But industrialisation of the root crops has been truncated by deliberate inactivity of the Federal Government on import substitution policy that tries to replace wheat with about 20 per cent cassava flour.

The Nigeria’s fishery subsector contributes about three to four per cent to the country’s annual GDP and is an important contributor to the population’s nutritional requirements, constituting about 50 per cent of animal protein intake. In addition, the sub-sector generates employment and income for a significant number of artisanal fishermen and small traders.

To reduce the level of fish imports, aquaculture has been selected as one of the priority value chains targeted for development, but the value chain development has been hampered by system failure, poor financing and retarded local production capacity.

President of the Catfish and Allied Fish Farmers Association of Nigeria (CAFFAN), Mr Rotimi Oloye, said the farmers are doing their best under the present circumstances, “but if we want food security as it’s desirable, all parties must play their roles.

“The farmers are hopeless and incurring losses but are still in production since they cannot get another job or are unemployable.”

The way out, he advised, is effective governance and provision of enabling environment for agriculture, rather than the lip services.

“The banks are not involved in agriculture but trading in importation and trade financing. The insurance has no knowledge of food production or are not interested,” he lamented.

Livestock development is an important component of Nigeria agriculture with abundant social and economic potentialities, but the sector is underdeveloped by lack of private sector investments.

About 60 per cent of the ruminant livestock population is found in the country’s semi-arid zone and mostly managed by pastoralists. Domestic production of livestock products is far below the national demand, resulting in large imports of livestock and livestock products. Except for eggs, the domestic production of animal products is less than half the demand for beef mutton and goat meat, while for milk and pork products, it is less than quarter of the demand.

FAO reports claim that about 30 per cent of live animals slaughtered in Nigeria are imported from neighbouring countries.

The livestock industry development is constrained by low productive breeds, inadequate access to feeds and grazing land, frequent farmer/pastoralist conflicts, which have claimed thousands of lives and displaces hundreds of communities in the country.

The Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), through its president, Mr Ibrahim Mam, said grain farmers in the north-central and north-east zones are supposed to be on the farm now, but insurgencies, kidnapping and other crises from herders and farmers have prevented them from cultivation.

“But I am scared because the north generally suffers and if the situation does not improve, by 2020, we will be in trouble because most farmers in the north cannot go to the farm for they are afraid of kidnapping.

“In the northeast, most farmers cannot go to the farm because of Boko Haram insurgents. In the north-central zone, farmers are afraid because of the herder-farmer crises. So, the majority of the people are not going to the farm now, and that portends dangers ahead,” he had told The Guardian.

Increased funding to the sector, enabling environment for production and value chain development, implementation of import substitution and backward integration policies, empowerment of small-scale farmers across the subsectors of agriculture, rural infrastructure development and stability of power generation and distribution are recommendations from the stakeholders as the way forward to boost food production.

Adoption of improved varieties of seeds, new technologies and cheaper farm mechanisation services are also said to be imperative for the transformation of the sector.


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