The managing director of African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), Dr Adebisi Araba has advised the Federal Government to support farmers with critical infrastructures to increase productivity in the agri-food sector rather than resort to the shutting of borders if Nigeria will achieve self-sufficiency and security in food production.
Araba gave the advice In an interview with The Guardian recently where he noted the solution to food insecurity is to assist smallholder farmers to gain the right access to needed information, finance as a well as providing the needed infrastructure to ensure farm produce go from production hubs to the market with ease.
His words: “A lot of people have heard about this, we keep talking about productivity and competitiveness, It’s not just about closing borders. For example in mid-2019, Nigeria’s borders were closed and one of the reasons cited was the flooding of the domestic market with imported rice. Between mid-2019 and the end of 2020, when I believe the restrictions begun easing, did Nigeria increase productivity in the rice sector? The yield for rice is still hovering between 2% to 3.5% on average because you get higher yields in the dry season so if you combine both, you get that sort of 2% to 3.5% yield for rice and that is not globally competitive because you need to understand that a rice farmer in Zamfara is not competing with a rice farmer in Benue, not in real terms.”
“Rice farmers in Nigeria are competing with rice farmers in the global market because if a country is able to produce a globally-demanded crop in such quantities and still transport it to Nigeria at a price that is still lower than what it cost to produce domestically, then we really need to look at the total factors of production. And so, it goes beyond just planting more, we need to increase the yield of rice, we need to ensure farmers are growing high yielding varieties, they have access to knowledge to improve their agronomic practices to ensure that what they are growing gives them the maximum yield. We have got the COVID-19, so what do we do? Yes, 13.5 million more people are projected to slip into either more poverty or get more food-insecure. The solution to food insecurity is to increase productivity.”
Araba said the Federal Government needs to take a definitive and focused approach to tackle food insecurity and the rising cost of food prices in the country: “The government really needs to be single-minded, single-minded about increasing productivity. Sometimes statistics can be fuzzy, where we see stats on people saying that XYZ tonnes of rice has been produced. That is not the critical stat, the critical stat is on how much land was that rice produced? So if we take the productivity, we can increase productivity and be globally-competitive, then we are no just talking about Nigeria producing enough to feed ourselves. Nigeria really should be feeding not just the west African market, Nigeria should be a global food powerhouse and we can pick which areas of the value chain we want to be globally-competitive in. We have no excuse we have the land, we are close to the equator, so Nigeria has that natural solar energy, we have the land, we have the people, labour is very cheap. Labour is one of the ingredients that goes into what determines the price. So if labour is cheap, you have the land then figure out the know-how that makes your output competitive. Its simple to explain but it is not easy.
While highlighting the challenges farmers and entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector face, Araba said lack of access to the right information is one of the things debilitating the sector and there is a need for entrepreneurs to speak up: “For the people who are in the production end of the agri-food systems, the asymmetry in market information, you don’t have access to price discovery mechanisms so aggregators can buy on the cheap and you are not sure of the reasonable and competitive price to charge for what you are producing and so you are losing out on value., so the government can figure out those mechanisms that improve not just the enabling environment but improve the competitiveness and productivity of people invested in the SME sector. And I think SMEs should demand more from the government. I don’t mean people should riot. SME’s need to speak up, they need to ensure that they can have their voices heard and they need to get into those rooms where decisions are being made.”
Another critical area Araba wants government look into is high lending and interest rates and government policies that are not helping the sector. “First thing is, bring down inflation. If you look at the agri-food sector, the government has multiple tools at their disposal, we have the Agri-Business Investment Scheme and the Anchor Borrower Programme, these two mechanisms are pumping in a lot of money into the agri-food sector trying to hit below the inflation/interest rate but what that causes in the long term if you keep pumping that kind of money into the sector is you create an inflation rate because now there is a lot of money in the economy,” he said.
On way forward for players in the agriculture industry and government, Araba advised the government to provide the enabling environment and invest in the critical infrastructure that will aid productivity and enhance the agric sector: “Government needs to invest in infrastructure. Don’t make the life of everybody in the agri-food sector harder than it should be. Build those roads, ensure that people have affordable power, ensure people have access to ICT services, ensure that the cost of borrowing is minimal and not eating away at their margins, improve the margins of these SME’s. There is a lot the government can do and then, of course, there are the policy levers that the government can pull. The government can provide tax incentives, tax holidays or even trade and market incentives.”