Rice export the target
In February, the Ministry of Agriculture forecast that Nigeria would become a net exporter of rice by 2017 on the back of increased investment in milling capacity. Production reached 1.1m tonnes a year in 2012, equivalent to 37% of national demand; and the Ministry estimates that this year’s harvest will reach 2.1m tonnes.
The Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, said: “I am delighted that people want to eat locally made rice. When President Goodluck Jonathan launched the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), he said Nigeria has no business in importing rice.
“So we started, under his leadership two years ago, a rice transformation agenda for Nigeria. We launched the dry season farm support programme in order for us not only to be producing during rainy season but also in the dry season.”
Nigeria was a net rice exporter during the colonial era but production has actually fallen as the population has increased.
Again, some of Nigeria’s biggest corporations are investing in rice farming, with Dangote alone investing $300m in domestic rice production. Whether by design or by accident, Nigeria seems to be developing an economic strategy akin to that of South Korea’s chaebols, which are vast conglomerates with interests in many different sectors but with unified overall management.
Another area with substantial scope for expansion is the cocoa sector. Nigeria is already the fourth biggest producer in the world, behind Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia. The Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN) expects production to reach 300,000 tonnes for the 2013–14 harvest season, a level last reached about 40 years ago, and 10% higher than that recorded last year. This is partly the result of the impact of higher global prices, which rose 17% in 2013 alone.
The government has set a target of boosting output to 500,000 tonnes a year by 2015–16 but this would still be just half of the production achieved by Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, despite the fact that Nigeria produced more than any other African country until the mid-1970s.
As in the wheat sector, CAN and the government are promoting new strains of cocoa that are more resistant to disease and with higher yields – sometimes as much as 300% higher. In addition, the new bushes produce their first cocoa just 18 months after planting rather than the four year minimum of more traditional strains. The 500,000 tonne target should therefore be achievable at some stage, even if it is not reached as soon as 2015.
Nigeria imports 99% of its sugar requirements but the government is encouraging sugar refiners to invest in cultivation. Flour Mills of Nigeria is among the companies to have begun investing in its own sugar estates, both in Nigeria and Benin.
The company’s group managing director, Paul Gbededo, told journalists: “The federal government has come up with the National Sugar Master Plan and the plan directs all refineries to have a backward integration programme. Our own backward integration programme is the Sunti Farm in Mokwa local government area of Niger State. We have cleared about 5,000 hectares of the land and planted about 2,000 hectares already: 10,000 hectares will give us 100,000 metric tonnes of raw sugar and 1m metric tonnes of sugar cane.”
The country’s transition from food exporter to massive importer over the past 50 years has been well documented, as successive governments have ignored agriculture as a result of the all-embracing obsession with oil.
The government of President Goodluck Jonathan does now seem to be promoting all the right policies on agriculture, although it is not without its critics. Former Agriculture Minister, Shetima Mustapha, has called on the government to use its oil income to support agricultural production. In many ways, agriculture is the exact opposite of the oil and gas sector: it is labour intensive, spread across all states and requires the direct participation of all levels of society.
Mustapha says: “We could have devoted substantial oil wealth into agriculture to have averted all these problems that we have been confronted with today. Although it is not too late to do it because we can still project what Nigeria will be for another 100 years, therefore, it is not too late to go back and do the right thing.
“I am appealing to policy makers to change their attitudes toward agriculture because agriculture is more than talking on television.”
However, others have praised the progress that has been made to date. In February, Caroline Kende-Robb, the executive director of the Africa Progress Panel, said “In the first year of its transformation push, Nigeria reached over 75% of its job creation target and has met the UN Millennium Development Goal number one, reducing the population of hungry people by half, three years ahead of schedule.
“But while Nigeria’s agricultural sector employs 58% of the country’s active workforce and cultivates just 40% of its available arable land, official sources say it spends just 2% of its GDP on agriculture. Even in Nigeria, there is room for further progress. Nigeria must spend an additional $2.4bn per year on much-needed agricultural investments to meet the 10% target established by the Maputo Declaration.”