Since coming into office in May 2015, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has left no one in doubt that food sufficiency formed a major plank of his administration.
With the drop in the price of oil since 2015, Buhari saw the urgent need to end Nigeria’s over-dependence on oil revenue and quickly put in place policies to boost food production as a way of not only ensuring food sufficiency for the nation but also as a means of generating foreign exchange.
In 2016, the government launched a roadmap and policy framework for the agriculture sector tagged “the Green Alternative”.
The Green Alternative was designed to provide a strategy for the sector from 2016 to 2020 and was targeted at growing the agriculture sector annually by 6% to 12%. The idea was to double agricultural household income in six to 12 years, drive job and wealth creation and enhance capacity for foreign exchange.
The document has three pillars which are: productivity enhancements, crowding in private sector investment and institutional strengthening, and realignment. This is aimed at creating a conducive environment for agriculture to thrive thereby boosting agriculture and ensuring food sufficiency in the country.
Earlier in 2015, the government had come up with the Central Bank of Nigeria Anchor Borrowers’ Programme which is aimed at creating a linkage between anchor companies involved in product processing and smallholder farmers of some key agricultural commodities.
The thrust of the programme is the provision of farm inputs in cash and kind to smallholder farmers to boost the production of agricultural commodities, stabilize input supply to agro-processors in order to address the country’s negative balance of payment on food that time.
The Anchor Borrowers’ Programme achieved the purpose for which it was established as seen in the manner in which it was embraced by some states within the country. States like Ebonyi, Kebbi, Jigawa, Enugu, Adamawa, Kano, Benue, Cross River amongst others went into large scale rice production.
Between November 2015when the programme was launched by President Buhari and 2018, Nigeria was able to cut down on the importation of rice by 95 percent, thereby saving two Billion Dollars monthly. Rice production hit 9.2 Metric tons in 2019 with an annual demand of a little over 7 million tons. Today, Nigeria can be said to have more or less attained sufficiency in rice production.
At the inception of the Buhari administration, Nigeria was spending over N365 Billion on the importation of rice, a staple food that grows in virtually all parts of Nigeria.
To further boost food sufficiency, Buhari signed the Seed Act to ensure that only high quality and certified seeds get to Nigerian farmers, thereby boosting food production and curbing losses on the part of the farmers.
The closure of Nigeria’s land borders with its neighbouring countries in August 2019 and the discontinuation of the issuance of foreign exchange to importers of rice since 2015 have combined to help in curbing smuggling of agriculture products and accelerated national productivity.
Another significant move to ensure food security in the country was the National Fertilizer Quality Control Act 2019. The new law is aimed at stopping the irregularities in the manufacture, importation, sales, and distribution of fertilizers in order to enhance quality control of fertilizers in Nigeria.
To further revolutionize agriculture in the country, government, in January 2019 launched the what it called Green Imperative, a Nigeria-Brazil bilateral agriculture development programme that will see 1.2 Billion Dollars injected into Nigeria’s agriculture sector.
The programme is aimed at ensuring that Nigeria achieves food sufficiency within the shortest period of time. The scheme has had a positive impact on the agric sector of the two countries.
However, unless urgent steps are taken, the COVID-19 pandemic may reverse the progress that has been made towards attaining food sufficiency in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s efforts at mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on the agricultural sector are not only timely but also commendable. Last April, the government set up a Joint Technical Task Team on emergency response to COVID-19 in order to avert a national food and economic crises.
The team is collaborating with states and local governments in the country to facilitate the free movement of food, livestock and agricultural inputs nationwide to avoid food shortages and ensure minimal impact of coronavirus on this year’s farming season.
The government must ensure that the policies it has put in place to boost food production and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic are sustained so that the threat to food sufficiency in Nigeria will be effectively repelled.