The inauguration of an implementation committee to halt the rejection of Nigerian agro-products at the international market is a bold step towards boosting non-oil exports. Undoubtedly, Nigeria has abundant agricltural products for export but the problem is mainly poor quality and packaging. It is based on this that the Ministry of Industry,Trade and Investment set up an implementation committee to look at the recommendations of the Technical Committee.
According to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo, the implementation should be done as quickly as possible. Adebayo also disclosed that the ministry has disbursed N785 billion to manufacturers for local production and exports. Small and medium enterprises are key benefiaries of the funds. It is good that this is coming at a time that the government is exploring alternative sources of revenue away from crude oil. Only recently, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council( NEPC) said the country exported N1.8 trillion worth of products between January and June 2022 to different parts of the world. Last year, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment said it was committed to addressing the challenges stated in the Technical Committee’s report on the rejection of some Nigeria’s agro- exports at the international market.
With non-oil sector contributing less than 3 per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product(GDP), priority attention should be given to non-oil exports to boost the economy, particularly at a time that the value of the Naira is sliding against major foreign currencies. In this regard, we welcome the report by the MD/CEO, Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA), Mohammed Bello-Koko, that that the agency has approved five export processing terminals to boost the nation’s agro exports. Reducing the volume of imports and increasing the level of exports is critical to the nation’s economic development.
A new report by the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that agricultural imports far exceeded agricultural exports by 120 per cent in the first Quarter of 2022. It calls for repositioning the country as a top agro, non-oil exporter. The data from the NBS showed that agricultural imports stood at N443.36 billion, while exports stood at N201.59 billion. It means that government’s policies on agriculture have fallen short of target. According to the figures, wheat and palm oil dominte imports. These are products that are abundant in the country, but have not been properly processed for export. For instance, within the Q1 2022, wheat imported from the United States was valued at N71.56billion, while that from Argentina was N59.04billion. Palm oil from Malaysia and China accounted for N13.52billion. About $2billion is spent annually on importing wheat. This has worsened as a result of the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war, which is expected to increase the cost of wheat imports by year end. The NBS report also showed that the value of total trade in agricultural goods fell Quarter on Quarter by 19 per cent to N644.94billion in the first Quarter of 2022 from N799.87billion in the fourth Quarter of 2021. This unimpressive performance of the agricultural sector in the Q1 is in spite of several policies initiated to boost food production and food security in the country. These policies included the National Accelerated Food Production Programme, 1972-1973, Operation Feed the Nation,1976-1980, Green Revolution Programme, 1981-1983, the Anchor Borrowers Programme by the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN).
It is regrettable that Nigeria’s agricultural sector, which used to be the mainstay of the economy and revenue earner for the country, is currently struggling to the extent that the country is resorting to agro-imports at a heavy cost to the nation’s foreign reserves. Figures from the CBN showed that between 2015 and 2019, food imports gulped $14 billion. The amount has reportedly doubled in the last two years due to farmer-herders conflicts and scarcity of foreign exchange.
Leveraging on agricultural produce that Nigeria has comparative advantage should be emphasised. The National Food Security Programme, which was launched in September 2008, was aimed at transforming the country into a major food-exporting nation. There is urgent need for aggressive diversification of the agric sector as well as other non-oil sectors of the economy. Attention must be paid to the production of rice, groundnut, cashew, wheat, coconut, pawpaw, plantain, yam, cassava, vegetable, and banana. Any country that is unable to feed its citizens has become a slave to other countries.
The foregoing has made it imperative for governments across the country and banks to invest heavily in agriculture and other non-oil exports. This will help to promote food production and exports, from primary production to value-added products that will increase our GDP growth. Besides, investment in agro industries will provide the much-needed employment opportunities. Boosting agro-exports will generate Forex earnings and grow the economy.