Whenever low oil prices hit the Nigerian economy, people recall the option of agriculture and begin scrambling to obtain land and plant something like the days of the gold rush in California or the diamond boom in South Africa.
Many success stories have been told but with an absence of many locally funded surveys, we may never know the rate of entry into and exit out of Nigeria’s agricultural sector.
What available data tell us though is that Nigeria remains a food-deficit country. That is the view expressed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The overwhelming feel-good factor sprayed into the atmosphere when a rush is sparked leaves one feeling like new ideas will flow in to aerate the sector and bring in innovations. In truth, there are some new business ventures like the Farmcrowdy concept that allows five to nine people run a farm without having their hands in the soil; the use of drones to spray pesticides; and the introduction of biotechnology crops that may just reduce the need to deplete our soil value further.
Farmcrowdy and other similar new businesses have introduced new investments into agriculture; drones take away jobs from a sector that is the highest employer of labour in the country; biotechnology and genetically modified, BT or GM – which ever suits your tongue – gives the seed supplier monopoly of your seedlings, reduces the use of chemicals on your farm and ultimately damages the natural make-up of that crop. It is a controversial topic among the learned and unlearned.
All told, these innovations have not reached a critical mass – the tipping point of ‘change or ‘transformation’ – to make a dent on Nigeria’s food security profile.
According to the FAO, Nigeria makes an annual loss of $10bn from declining production in cocoa, oil palm and cotton; 12.9 million Nigerians are malnourished and 13 million are hungry, according to 2016 estimates.
Agricultural Production and Yield 2010 – 2015
Average growth rate (%)
2014 – 2015
2010 – 2015
Rice & Paddy
*The Areas Harvested is in thousand hectares and the output and yield are in million metric tonnes. **The data above shows that increased hectare and improved harvest barely ever lead to increased yield.
The agency of government responsible for closing this gap is the Nigeria Stored Products Research Institute. Forgetting the enormity of the challenge facing it, the NSPRI told or permitted the National Assembly to add N1.35bn into its 2018 budget for building solar streetlights, buying vehicles and carrying out other activities that had nothing to do with reducing losses incurred by farmers before they get the opportunity to make a dime from their harvest.
It is important for Nigerian ministers to avail themselves of data that genuinely reflect the performance of any sector. They need to avoid speaking in ignorance.
The Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri, recently told a visiting official from the International Fund for Agricultural Development that all of West Africa depended on Nigeria to survive.
For many years, the country has not been able to produce enough food for its population and a lot of farm produce still go to waste.
With the FAO working with the International Labour Organisation to boost the involvement of youths in agriculture, more innovators should be driven to think of building processing plants that target post-harvest loss reduction. We need a critical mass of agricultural entrepreneurs in that space.