Insecurity, low productivity fuel Nigeria’s high agro imports – Operators

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Operators are worried about the higher value of agricultural goods imported into Nigeria than those exported, attributing this to a plethora of challenges that must be addressed in the sector, Okechukwu Nnodim reports

The latest report of the National Bureau of Statistics on Foreign Trade in Goods Statistics for the first quarter of this year indicated that the value of agricultural imports in the first quarter of 2022 stood at N443.36bn, while exports was N201.59bn.

Data from the report showed that agro imports during the period exceeded exports by N241.77bn, a development that was described as worrisome by farmers and other stakeholders in the business of agriculture in Nigeria.

They attributed this to various concerns but insisted that these challenges were surmountable when confronted holistically by the Federal Government and stakeholders.

The National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, told our correspondent that the drop in exports was due to reduced productivity in Nigeria, as this was caused by the lack of agro-inputs and insecurity.

“I think our productivity has gone down now, which means that the quantity available to export has gone down. This is worrisome to not just farmers but to every genuine stakeholder in the agricultural industry in this country,” he stated.

Ibrahim added, “There are many reasons for this. Farming activities depend on fertilisers and inputs, and even the freedom of going to the farm is not always there. Once these activities or inputs are distorted, then productivity will definitely be affected.”

The AFAN president observed that most states that produced high economic crops were currently hit by insecurity, as this had persistently reduced the earnings from agro exports.

“If you take ginger and sesame, for instance, all the areas that produce these high value export commodities are suffering from insecurity. And that can affect the quantity and quality of products available for export,” he stated.

Ibrahim urged the federal and state governments to ensure that agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and seedlings, which were being distributed to farmers, got to the targeted beneficiaries.

He said the inputs should also be subsidised where necessary, as this would make it more accessible to farmers, adding that the worsening insecurity must be contained.

“The investments that we have in terms of fertilisers should be enhanced and subsidies on this commodity should go right down to the farmers,” he stated.

Ibrahim added, “And, of course, the fight against insecurity should be upscaled. Our security forces should take the fight to the bandits, because we have tried many things and we have not succeeded.

“We always seem to be waiting for the bandits to attack before going after them. What we should do now is to look out for them in their hideouts and fight them there. I think this should be the best approach now.

“Insecurity is currently the major factor stalling the progress we should be making in the agricultural sector and this is why we import more agricultural commodities than what we export. So, this is a very pressing factor hindering productivity.”

The AFAN president further stated that apart from reducing the country’s agro-exports, the insecurity in Nigeria currently posed a threat to its food production.

He said, “There is a serious nexus between food security and insecurity. Everybody should know this. The food basket of the nation is now being bedeviled by insecurity.

“Therefore, it is an understatement to take away food security from insecurity. They are interwoven. An insecure nation is one heading towards food scarcity if the insecurity persists. So, something urgent must be done by the government.”

The banking industry has also decried the effect of insecurity on several interventions introduced for the agricultural sector.

The Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, had said, “The Bankers’ Committee called on the Federal Government to prioritise efforts to curb the menace of insecurity to enable farming and other business activities return to normalcy.”

A member of the Monetary Policy Committee, Mohammed Salisu, had also said, “Drivers of inflation, especially food inflation, in Nigeria include disruption to farming activities and inter-state trade.

This is because of worsening security conditions, rural road infrastructural deficits, persistent supply chain disruptions, post-harvest losses, and sustained exchange rate pressures with pass-through to domestic prices.”

Also commenting on the high imports of agro-products by Nigeria, the National President, Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria, Adeola Adegoke, noted that aside from beefing up security, the government should adopt other models that would boost export earnings.

He pointed out that Nigeria had lost its place in the world as one of the major exporters of cocoa due to many factors, adding that it was high time that the government and stakeholders worked together to revive Nigeria’s agro-exports.

He said, “If we were not going backward as a cocoa producing country, we wouldn’t be where we are today. It is because something went wrong in terms of productivity, the living standard of farmers, among other issues.

“In the 1960s, cocoa was a major foreign exchange earner for Nigeria. So, for us to get it right and start earning enough forex from agricultural goods, we must do what is right by ensuring adequate security for farmers, which is first and foremost.

“Secondly, we should adopt some of the models that worked for farmers in neighbouring countries, particularly in cocoa production, such as the Living Income Differential model with respect to cocoa export.”

The PUNCH reported recently that the Federal Government in partnership with the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria had commenced moves to attract extra $400 on the cost of every tonne of cocoa exported from Nigeria.

Operators stated that Nigeria exported about 340,000 tonnes of cocoa annually, meaning that the country would earn an additional $136m outside the actual cost of the commodity once it perfects the process required to achieve this.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Abubakar Mahmood, had during the inauguration of the National Cocoa Management Committee, stated that officials of his ministry recently visited Ghana to study the implementation of Living Income Differential with respect to cocoa export.

Mahmood had explained that Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire introduced the Living Income Differential as a premium on their cocoa and as a tool to complement the prices of cocoa in the international market.

Providing details about the LID, while speaking with our correspondent, Adegoke, said, “This will spur cocoa production because the $400 per tonne is very important to cocoa producers.

“This is why we informed the government about it and that Nigeria is losing nothing less than N60bn as a result of the non-collection of LID by farmers.”

On the quantity of cocoa currently produced in Nigeria, Adegoke said it was over 300,000 metric tonnes, adding that Nigerian cocoa farmers would earn more once the $400/tonne payments became effective.

He said, “We are producing above 300,000MT annually. The production is actually close to about 340,000MT and this $400/tonne is the extra payment to be given on top of whatever we are selling in the international market.

“So, it is money given to cocoa farmers to augment whatever income they are earning from the sales of their cocoa. That is what we are working towards as farmers and now the government is supporting it.”

Insecurity won’t stop food production, says FG

Amidst the concerns about insecurity, the agriculture minister insisted that the government was working hard to curb the menace in Nigeria, as he insisted that the challenge would not halt food production across the country.

Mahmood, who spoke to our correspondent on the sidelines of an event in Abuja, said, “The government is doing whatever it can and is at the top of the issue. I can assure you that the government will not allow insecurity to stop food production.

“As a result of that, at some point, our farmers are given some form of protection using the Agro-Rangers. However, the root of the matter is for us to collaborate and find ways to solve the problem, not just temporarily, and the government is doing that.”

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