As Nigeria makes frantic efforts to achieve self-sufficiency in food production, in line with revenue diversification efforts, stakeholders across the agricultural value chain are seeking favourable policies to achieve needed growth in the sector.
To achieve this, the private sector is taking the lead to put the country’s economic diversification rhetoric into action, as stakeholders at BusinessDay’s agribusiness and food security summit yesterday, resolved to chart a course for practical action immediately.
Nigeria’s annual food import bill of $5 billion has become unsustainable, especially in recent times, when access to dollars and other foreign currencies has dipped. At the official exchange rate of N308, the food import bill will amount to N1.5 trillion, which is 20.92 percent of this year’s N7.23 trillion budget, while, using the parallel market rate of N400, the food import bill will amount to N2.0 trillion; which is 27.66 percent, one-third of this year’s national budget.
“The responsibility to rethink (agriculture in Nigeria) rests on all of us and not just government,” said Heineken Lokpobiri, minister of state for agriculture, at the BusinessDay AgriBusiness and Food Security Summit.
Lokpobiri also stated “All well meaning Nigerians must be part of the reshaping and repositioning of our entire agricultural sector, for the sake of our survival and that of the next generation.”
“The journey to peace, security and prosperity in Nigeria must begin with food security and agribusiness, providing the needed jobs, leading to the improvement in the living standards of the farmers and revitalising rural economies across the country,” while also emphasising that “We cannot achieve our agro-export potential without relevant certifications and this is key for earning the much needed Aaro-dollars to stimulate rapid economic recovery.”
Abdulhameed Abatti Aliyu, Managing Director and CEO, Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), said there are two key opportunities; an available market and linkages that enable agribusiness to thrive.
According to Aliyu, Nigeria has about 200 million people to feed every day, agro-based industries that need raw materials every day, and import substitution market of nearlyN2 trillion, derivable from produce such as wheat, rice, vegetable oil, and others.
“If you combine the above elements, it means that one of the key factors of setting up agribusiness (an available market) is there,” Aliyu said.
Sani Dangote, president, Nigeria Agribusiness Group and vice president, Dangote Industries, on his part, expressed the view that “Until we are able to make a decision that our focus on agriculture as a country is for a long term and not because of the low price of crude oil, we might not be able to move our agriculture sector forward.”
Dangote further advocated that the “Government must collaborate with the private sector to agree on the drafting of a time-line bound agricultural roadmap, with monitoring and evaluation frameworks on its deliverables.
“The outcome of the collaboration (between government and private sector) should be a bill that will be passed by the National Assembly and enacted as a law,” Dangote said.
He noted that such a bill would also need to become a law to help prevent policy summersaults, which disrupt investments in the sector and erode investor’s confidence.
The agricultural value chain panel, which had key private sector players in attendance at the summit, emphasised the need for consistent policies on the part of government to sustain investments in agriculture, also stressing that it is time to put the economic diversification rhetoric into action.
Stakeholders at the summit, who spoke on the sub-title “Powering Nigerian Agriculture through Innovative Financing”, said insurance is critical to drive development in agri-business value chain.
Samson Ajibola, head, Agric Insurance and Microfinance, Leadway assurance noted that the law establishing agric insurance in Nigeria is a stumbling block on why a larger majority of farmers, particularly small holder farmers, cannot access funding.
Speaking on lessons Nigeria can learn from the Netherlands, Michel Deelen, head, Netherlands Representation in Lagos, and deputy ambassador to Nigeria, noted that “agricultural practices have changed all over the world, and this also needs to happen in Nigeria; changing from subsistence farming to professional (commercial) farming, in order to feed Nigeria’s growing population.”
Deelen also said that the Dutch government has opportunities for entrepreneurs in Nigeria’s agriculture, which should be adequately utilised to achieve growth.
According to him, one of the programs in Nigeria is “2Scale”, which works with smallholder farmers to raise up the quality of their products so as to meet with international standards. The mission, according to him, has also been providing seeds to Nigerian farmers, expressing the resolve to increase this in a bid to boost Nigeria’s efforts to achieve sufficiency in food production.
Deleen also highlighted the Dutch Good Growth Fund (DGGF), which provides financial assistance to do business in an emerging market or a developing country such as Nigeria.
Speaking on achieving international standards, Vincent Isegbe, coordinating director, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service, noted that Nigeria does not have a national pesticides policy in place and this allows inflow of adulterated pesticides into the country. Farmers often use them in more quantities than they should, leading to rejections when they export.
Earlier in his opening remarks, Frank Aigbogun, publisher, BusinessDay, said that in achieving national security, “there is perhaps nothing more important as food security.”
“There is no serious nation in the world that can carry on without ensuring that it can produce what its people eat, and if it doesn’t grow it, it must guarantee a seamless cost effective supply of what people need to eat on a day-to-day basis,” Aigbogun said.