Nigerian Agro Sector: Gaps, Constraints, Prospects
May 31, 2019

While agriculture remains the key to the country’s development, experts are of the opinion that despite the opportunities, there are some constraints that limit the growth of the sector. JULIANA AGBO writes on the challenges affecting the growth in Nigeria. Prior to the discovery of crude oil, agriculture was the main stream of the Nigeria economy. It accounted for 50 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), and more than 75 per cent of export earnings. Cash crops such as cocoa, groundnut, sesame, palm oil and rubber were at the central stage of foreign exchange earnings. But most importantly, during that time, Nigeria could feed itself. But the situation changed by the mid-1960s, as Nigeria began to move from self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs to import dependency. According to the World Bank, with abundant water supply, and a favourable climate, Nigeria can rise again in the agriculture sector, provided it utilises its small-scale farmers, promotes farming as an employment opportunity, partners with the private sector, and provide significant investments in infrastructure and technology. Over the years, many administrations in Nigeria had initiated several strategies to boost the agriculture sector. These included the 'National Accelerated Food Production Program', 'Operation Feed the Nation', the 'River Basin Development Authority', 'Green Revolution’ and the ‘Commercial Agricultural Development Project for Nigeria'. In 2011, the administration of former President, Good luck Jonathan, launched the 'Agricultural Transformation Agenda' (ATA) to promote agribusiness, private sector investment, job creation, productivity, value add, market access, and financing for farmers. The ATA was seen by many as a step in the right direction for the agriculture sector. It helped revamp the overtly corrupt fertiliser- and seed-distribution business through the ‘Growth Enhancement Support’ (GES) Program. It also focused on private sector investments and provided marketing reforms and innovative financing. However, In June 2016, the current administration, through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, released its policy and strategy document for its ‘Agriculture Promotion Policy for 2016-2020’. The policy hopes to build on the success of the ATA and close key gaps, specifically the reduction in food imports and improvements in foreign exchange earnings from agriculture.

This aligns with the current administration’s reiteration that the Nigerian economy needs to diversify away from an over-dependence on the oil and gas sector. The policy also falls within the objectives of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Feed Africa Strategy, seeking to improve productivity; develop input and output market structures and incentives to capitalise on increased production, and promote private sector engagement and investment. Access to inputs such as improved seeds, fertilisers, chemicals, and planting materials by farmers have been identified as one of the major challenges to smallholder farmers in Nigeria. Also poor access to information, adequate financing and post-harvest losses are other critical barriers in the sector. Experts recognise that the agriculture sector holds tremendous opportunities for wealth creation in Nigeria, saying in the face of the global oil glut, there is a dire need for investment in this sector in order to boost the economy. They are also of the opinion that animal production is a very important sector of the economy of any nation, adding that it is crucial in ensuring food security. Commenting on the prospects, the managing director, El-trexone Farms, Dr Ibrahim Dikko, reiterated the need for the government to collaborate with private sector to train farmers in business schools so as to gain an insight into new opportunities in the agribusiness value chain as well as tackle challenges that have made agribusiness unprofitable in the past. He said, "A partnership with the private sector has proven to be beneficial for agribusiness in increasing productivity and strengthening input and output market structures. For the private sector to continue to be motivated to invest, the country would do well to speed up its attempts at solving identified challenges. "Nigeria, projected to have a population of 440 million people by 2050, needs to take food sustainability seriously. Fortunately, the country has what it takes to meet the increased demands for food and consumption patterns. Its agricultural policies, if properly implemented, are capable of making Nigeria food-secure and prosperous. By harnessing the opportunities and addressing the constraints identified, the true potential of agriculture will be realised."

While reiterating the need to prioritise livestock production, he said increase in animal products in the country whose population is expected to reach 440 million people by the year 2050, would help alleviate poverty, provide food security and meet other needs of such a growing population. "As Nigeria struggles to advance in animal production many factors militate against animal production in the country, like inadequate finance, high cost of animal feeds, animal diseases, lack of infrastructure, lack of government incentives, transportation and other factors militating against animal production in Nigeria and tries to proffer solutions to them,” he added. Managing director, Santuscom Agro Hub, an indigenous food packaging/processing firm, Chief Ofana Paul, who spoke on the benefit of processing and packaging as way forward to sustain food security, said, the lack of adequate storage and processing facilities accounts for the divergence between national food security and household food security. Paul while describing packaging as an essential medium for preserving food quality, minimising food wastage and reducing preservatives used in food, said it serves the important function of containing the food, protecting against chemical and physical damage while providing information essential to consumers and marketers. The managing director stated that his firm has been into the processing and packaging of agriculture products and has enjoyed the benefit that comes with this, adding that, with the encouragement of it, more jobs will be created for women and youths. "We have enough to feed ourselves with here in Nigeria and that is why I often say that we should now begin to think of exporting food to other parts of Africa. The demand for the production and processing of plantain is quite huge. The demand for plantain flour in Cameroon and Ghana is so huge and that is why we need to improve on our modes of packaging and processing of agricultural products in order to meet the demands of the market." He however noted that adequate packaging helps in advertising the product and improving the overall product value thus leading to higher sales and profit for the investor. "It provides customer satisfaction with strong customer - oriented approach. They note that, of course, most producers of food want their customers to get home with or receive their products at home, undamaged and in great condition," he added.

Vice national president, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Chief Daniel Okafor, who said food must be consumed on a daily basis, added that storage and processing were critical in ensuring that the commodities produced at a particular period were available for consumption whenever and wherever they were required. He said efforts of stakeholders in the sector have not been sustained to ensure good road networks in the rural areas where the bulk of agricultural activities take place. Also speaking, a farmer from Nasarawa State, Ganiyu Mukhtar, who said food perishes due to lack of storage and processing facilities, noted that simple, efficient, and cost effective technologies for perishables, such as roots, tubers, fruits and vegetables, are not highly developed in the country compared to the storage technologies for cereal grains and legumes. Consequently, he said post-harvest food storage losses were very high, adding that approximately 40 per cent of such produce usually perish, compared to cereal grains and pulses at about 15 per cent. According to him, “Traditional storage facilities have certain deficiencies, including a low elevated base giving easy access to rodents, wooden floors that termites could attack, weak supporting structures that are not moisture-proof, and inadequate loading and unloading facilities." Mukhtar, who further spoke on the recent hand over of concessioned silos, said the arrangement would not work to generate the expected income because farmers were not carried along in the process from the beginning. He said farmers, particularly those who were far away from where silos were located across the states would find it difficult to transport their grains to the location because of huge transport cost. He therefore called for construction of smaller silos across the states for easy access by the farmers.