Agric Ministers Claim Food Import Bill Is $22 bn; An Exaggeration Taken Too Far?


That Nigeria has failed to be self sufficient in food production is perhaps an agreeable consensus for most Nigerians who hear the statement.

What has however failed to achieve consensus is the amount of food Nigeria actually imports. At times, a range is given, while at other times, figures slightly differ as data sources attempt to capture just how much Nigeria spends to import food. This, in a country which has over 80 million hectares of arable land it can cultivate, and 180 million people that need to be fed.

Audu Ogbeh, minister of agriculture, at this year’s meeting of the National Council on Agriculture and Rural Development (NCARD) in Port Harcourt, said during his remarks to ‘declare the meeting open’ that Nigeria’s food import bill is $22.5 billion.

Ogbeh went further to explain that this reflected how insecure the country is in food production, using this to emphasise the need for concerted efforts in increased food production across all types of crops and even livestock.
At an exclusive interview secured after the NCARD meeting with Heineken Lokpobiri, minister of state for Agriculture and Rural Development, the first objective was to clarify the assertion made by Audu Ogbeh, the senior minister for Agriculture.

Asked; We’ve been working with $5 billion as the value of Nigeria’s food import bill which is no longer sustainable, but, at the National Council on Agriculture meeting, the figure was put at $22.5 billion. Can you shed some light on this?

Lokpobiri in response, said; That has been the figure. When we came, the statistics we have showed Nigeria’s food import bill is $22 billion. And that figure itself is being disputed, because some people are saying the figure is far less than what we actually spend on food import; because we import virtually everything. Nigeria was in trade deficit with every other country.

Today we are happy that some countries within the region at least come to Kano, Sokoto, Jigawa. They are entering Nigeria to come and buy goods but before, we were in trade deficit with every country in the world; including Benin republic.

Lokpobiri in response to another question further said; If we are importing food to the tune of $22 billion, that is money that effectively the private sector can earn in Nigeria. There is no excuse why we have to spend $22 billion importing food, there is no excuse for Nigeria to spend $5-6 million to import rice daily.

The Ministry of Agriculture’s official data contradict both ministers’ claims
The Agriculture Promotion Policy document for 2016 – 2020 which was released by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), noted that; Nigeria still imports about $3 to $5 billion worth of food annually, especially wheat, rice, fish and sundry items, including fresh fruits.

As a result, Nigeria is not food secure. Wastage levels remain high in production areas, reducing supply of feedstock to processing factories, requiring them to keep importing supplies. The net effect is limited job growth across the agricultural value chain from input production to market systems, and continued use of limited foreign currency earnings to import vast quantities of food.

It further stated that Nigeria still imports a significant amount of food. Nigeria is also not earning significant foreign exchange from agriculture, meaning we are losing on both ends. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) figures also fails to align with the Ministers.

A collation of “food related items” imported into Nigeria as captured by the NBS foreign trade statistics are classified by the bureau as; Live animals; animal products; Vegetable products; Animal and vegetable fats and oils and; Prepared foodstuffs; beverages, spirits and vinegar; tobacco.

In 2013, the cumulative value of imports classified under these headings amounted to N1.27 trillion naira, and approximately $3.53 billion at an exchange rate of N360 to $1. In 2014, the value was N1.28 trillion or $3.57 billion; in 2015, N1.16 trillion or $3.23 billion, and as at September 2016, N829 billion or $2.3 billion.

Adding a cumulative estimate of $2 billion for both rice and wheat will put each of these annual figures between $5 and $6 billion, still a far cry from the $22 billion asserted by both ministers of agriculture.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) also has contrary data

A 2017 PWC report titled; transforming Nigeria’s agricultural value chain, which indicated estimates were deduced using a combination of sources including the World Bank, NBS, FMARD, UNCTAD, and the CBN, put the country’s food import bill at $5.3 billion.

As at 2016, the top five agricultural imports according to the report were Fish – $1.46 billion; Wheat – $1.07billion; Sugar, molases and honey – $373 million; Milk, cream and milk products – $295 million; and Fixed vegetables, fat and oil – $250 million. Cumulatively, the top five agricultural imports translate to approximately $3.45 billion.
The World Bank’s figures also don’t seem to align with the Ministers

Africa’s food import bill is estimated at a staggering US$30–50 billion, indicating that an opportunity exists for smallholder farmers—Africa’s largest entrepreneurs by numbers—who already produce 80% of the food we eat to finally transition their enterprises into thriving businesses.

This is according to World Bank estimates quoted in the Africa Agriculture Status Report which was released at the end of this year’s African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Cote d’Ivoire.

It then begs the question of how possible it is for Nigeria’s food import bill to be $22.5 billion if that of the entire African continent with an estimated 1.2 billion people is between $30 – 50 billion.

The more realistic conclusion

As shown by different sources backed by data and research, Nigeria’s food import bill is at least $5 billion annually, and at most in the range of $7 billion; about one-third of what Audu Ogbeh and Heineken Lokpobiri, minister of agriculture, and minister of state, respectively, assert it is.

The exaggeration it would seem, is far too much.
Conclusively however, World Population prospects published by the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, noted Nigeria’s population, currently the seventh largest in the world, is growing the most rapidly, and it is projected to be 411 million by 2050.

Invariably, the amount of food produced as a matter of urgency, will need to start increasing rapidly particularly as the country’s food import bill is no longer sustainable. More food needs to be produced; by Nigerians, for Nigerians, and someday, to feed the rest of Africa as well.

Business Day