Nigeria’s rising food imports

The government’s plan to address the rising cost of food items appears not to be working. If the situation continues, it will be difficult for the government to eradicate hunger and poverty as recommended by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. According to the latest Quarterly statistics of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), food imports for the last one year alone reached N30trillion.

This is despite a large agricultural sector, in addition to Nigeria having the largest arable land in Africa after Egypt. This has also come in spite of federal government’s efforts in recent years to shore up food production through various intervention programmes to reduce the dependence on food imports. Besides the staggering amount spent on food imports in the last one year, Nigeria recorded a food trade deficit in excess of N4trillion between 2018 and 2022.                                                     

The present rise in food prices resulting from high food importation that has been blamed on flooding, insecurity and climate change impacts. The development also indicates that the federal and state governments have not set the right framework, policies and incentives towards boosting food production through huge investment in the agricultural sector. A breakdown of the foreign exchange, totaling N3trillion  for food imports released by the CBN for 2023, showed that $245.7 million was disbursed in January, 2023,  $163.6million in February, $240.9million in April, while the sum of $238.3million and $206million was spent in May and June 2023, respectively. Also, in July 2023, $58million was disbursed for food imports, $93.5million in August, $119.9million in September, $132.4million in October, $235.9million and $120.2million in November and December. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), food inflation for the month of April 2024 increased to 40.53 per cent as a result of price surge in major staple foods in the country.

No doubt, the huge food import is disturbing. It is a drain on the nation’s scarce foreign reserves which has experienced a huge decline in recent months. Considering the enormous arable land in the country, Nigeria ought not to have spent so much on food imports. The government should initiate the right policies that will boost food production. Without food security, poverty and crimes will escalate.                                                           

  With an increase of 121.7 per cent of import bill between 2018 and 2023, Nigeria spent about N6.9trillion on food imports in five years. Flooding, insecurity and other factors might have forced many farmers to abandon their farms. Unfortunately, the nation’s total agricultural exports stood at a paltry N1.99trillion, leading to agricultural trade deficit of N4.919trillion.  The trade deficit was N959 billion in 2019, N1.2 trillion in 2020, N2 trillion in 2021 and N1.9trillion in 2022. The N1.08trillionn the CBN disbursed under the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) to boost rice production did not achieve the desired results.                                           

The Tinubu administration has acquired about 500,000 hectares of land across the country for aggressive agricultural cultivation. And the African Development Bank (AfDB) has pledged financial aids to spur agro industries. Nigeria has over 84 million hectares of arable land for agriculture.  No doubt, the contribution of food importation to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is relatively high, at more than a quarter per cent of per capita income.

As a result, the contribution of food imports to Nigeria’s economic growth is also high. This implies that domestic production has largely lagged behind consumption. Let the government invest more resources in agro-business through mechanised agriculture and all seasons farming. Currently, Nigeria lacks an effective agric extension programmes that will expand the utilisation of technology. 

There is need for more agricultural programmes that should encourage smallholder farmers to produce food with low interest credit facilities.  Let the government invest so much in food processing. With adequate food processing methods in place, the country can reduce post-harvest losses of crops such as tomatoes. Nigeria currently produces 1.5 metric tonnes of tomatoes per annum with a reported 700,000 metric tonnes post-harvest loss.

This can explain the high cost of tomatoes in the market. Though Nigeria is the 13th largest producer of tomatoes in the world, and second in Africa, tomato demand in the country is 2.2 metric tonnes per annum. Besides tomatoes, Nigeria should be the leading producer of cassava, palm oil, cocoa, vegetables, maize, plantain, among others. This is the best way to reduce the rising food import bills. 

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