Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Heineken Lokpobiri’s recent disclosure that Nigeria spends about $22 billion a year on food importation should not end as mere lamentation, which has been echoed too many times by top government officials, with little or nothing done about it.
Earlier in the year, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbe made a similar statement when he said that Nigeria spends a whopping $20 billion on food importation annually. Instead of lamenting, the agric ministers should be organising food production strategies, taking appropriate steps to deal with food scarcity in order to curb food importation.
Whatever would make people return to agriculture as an attractive enterprise, especially, in the light of the current economic downturn should be pursued and encouraged. Government should provide the necessary environment by way of infrastructure for agriculture and its derivatives to flourish. Nigeria cannot continue to depend on imported foods for her teeming population of over 160 million people.
Lokpobiri spoke during a town hall meeting with stakeholders in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, during which he visited some farms. He bemoaned the fact that food importation is responsible for the astronomical rise in the price of rice and other products, stressing that should Nigeria fail to produce some of the imported foods by December 2016, the price of rice would skyrocket to N40, 000 per 50kg bag. The price at the moment is about N22, 000 per bag, which is already unaffordable .
The Minister said the Niger Delta alone could feed the entire West Africa sub-region, therefore, it is a challenge for the people to take farming seriously. He noted that rice takes only three months to mature and regretted that the states in the Niger Delta region had not yet paid appropriate attention to agriculture.
Lokpobiri challenged the overdependence on oil by citing Anambra State, which owes no salaries despite not earning oil money but instead raking in money through exporting vegetables. Anambra State is making waves by producing not only vegetables but rice also even for export already.
For Nigeria, which has about 99.9 per cent fertile land, from the coast to the northern fringes, to be importing most of her main food is totally unacceptable. The blame is on wrong-headed policies pertaining to agriculture.
By depending almost entirely on oil and neglecting agriculture, Nigeria moved from being a net exporter of agric products to an importer nation. The consequences have been enormous on the economy and the people’s wellbeing.
Food security is one critical factor that guarantees national peace, prosperity and better living standards, which every right thinking government must endeavour to achieve
There is hardly any food item that cannot be produced in Nigeria. The problem is how to operationalise the mechanism for food production. When the government takes the lead with the right policies and commitment, then those interested, whether corporate or individuals, would be encouraged.
Nigeria however, needs restructuring to enhance grassroots development as at the moment, policies don’t reach the people.
Nigeria’s commitment should be to tilling the land. With diverse geographical regions, Nigeria is endowed with different varieties of crops. It is therefore a good development that the Lagos State Government acquired land in Kebbi State for rice cultivation. That is a positive move, which other states and local governments should emulate.
Research shows that Nigeria has 38 varieties of rice and no other variety is better than Nigeria’s. More research is needed to determine appropriate crop varieties that should be cultivated and we need to deploy science to improve production.
As a matter of fact, agriculture is now 95% science and 5% labour. The value chain that goes with food production is critical for industrial development. Employment is created and raw materials are generated. Agro-based industries are the vehicles through which jobs are created. There is also the possibility for exporting those food products and semi-processed raw materials to generate revenue.
Nigeria should gain a lot from the current economic recession with a renewed effort at to reviving agriculture.
The youths should be sensitised and paid appropriately to work in the farms. Schools should be allocated farm lands to cultivate. The Ministry of Agriculture should revive agric extension schemes and personnel. Universities should do more research. And the states and local governments should take up the challenge of providing the platform to get the people back to land. This period of economic adversity should be the springboard for Nigeria’s liberation.