By Teslim Olawore
Nigeria led by President Muhammadu Buhari dreamed of a farming renaissance that would cut food bills and compete with crude-oil as its top export but it didn’t count on gun-toting herdsmen, heavy floods and a persistent Boko-Haram insurgency in the northeast.
As the country gears up for election scheduled for February 2019, Buhari’s flagship pledges to cut an annual $22 billion in food imports was marred by insecurity and poor planning. It’s prolonging the West African nation’s reliance on crude revenue, a downturn which sparked a 2016 recession.
A company that advises Nigeria’s agriculture ministry suggested that there’s a lack of strong public governance and political will to take important decisions in the areas of security and government also struggled to provide the support it promised to farmers.
Reviving wheat and rice production would spring up farming to the economic primacy it had before the discovery of oil and the oil boom that followed. As crude-oil revenue grew and the country became Africa’s top producer, large-scale agriculture suffered.
Nigeria today is Africa’s most populous nation, and only petroleum accounts for 90 percent of foreign-currency earnings and two-thirds of government income.
Buhari’s 2015 election and fall in the prices of crude-oil the previous year fuelled plans to diversify the economy. New varieties of wheat and cocoa already Nigeria’s largest export after oil and gas were to be introduced; farmers were promised better access to loans, inputs and equipment.
Nigeria, being the world’s 10th-largest wheat-buyer, promised to cut imports by 60 percent by 2025 by bringing in varieties that can thrive in warmer climates. Output hasn’t shifted from an annual 60,000 tonnes. That’s over shadow by the more than 5 million tonnes it shipped in 2017 from Russia and the US, according to the Agriculture Ministry. Processed-rice production is more disputed. The ministry forecast 38 percent growth this year to 6,5 million tonnes and officials say foreign rice arriving at ports has dropped 95 percent because of new import dues.