There is a need to get our priorities right. The major pre-occupation of the agriculture ministry at this time should be how to improve productivity in agriculture. The sector is still largely dominated by smallholder farmers that do not have the capacity to support the realisation of our vision for self-sufficiency and food security for the country. The sector is grappling with serious issues such as high cost of farm inputs, including agrochemicals, high cost of agricultural machinery and equipment, access to land for mechanised farming; access to finance, especially working capital, by investors in the sector. There is also the issue of security challenges faced by farmers because of the activities of herdsmen and many more. These are the issues I expect the agriculture ministry to be tackling at this time.
Of course, it is possible to generate substantial foreign exchange from the export of food items, but the productivity issue must first be addressed. We need to structure the sector to attract the elite and younger generation of investors into agriculture and the totality of the value chain. The reality is that the farming population is aging fast. There is also a critical social dimension to the yam export story.
The biggest worry of the majority of our citizens is the current high food prices. The negative welfare effect is profound and creating a social stability risk for the country. It is taking a toll on the political capital of the current administration. It is, therefore, difficult to reconcile this reality with the dramatisation of the exportation of yam. It is good to generate foreign exchange, but we have a major responsibility to respond urgently to the problem of hunger occasioned by the high cost of food. • Mr. Muda Yusuf (Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry)
Government has been putting a lot of effort towards diversifying the production base of the economy so as to improve our export earnings. To this extent, the decision to begin the export of our food crops is one aspect through which we can improve foreign trade and strengthen our exchange rate. Over the years, we have been depending solely on crude oil exports as our major source of foreign exchange earnings. If the tempo of food exports can be sustained, it can mark the beginning of an improvement in the terms of trade and we can diversify from commodity export to, maybe manufacturing of goods for export.
We should not relax because we do not have competitive advantage; we only have comparative advantage in certain products. So, we need to improve on the competitive advantage and that will require us to improve on our infrastructure, which for now is a major impediment to achieving our competitive advantage. In all, it is a good beginning for us that we have started exporting some of our food crops. • Dr Enang Udah, (Lecturer, Department of Economics, University of Calabar)
With regard to diversifying the export base of Nigeria, there is unanimity of opinion that it is long overdue. This economy, given its import-dependent nature, needs multiple streams of foreign exchange to maintain adequate reserves and stabilise the exchange rates.
Moreover, it is also consistent with the macro objective of balance of payment equilibrium. In this light, exports are desirable. Nevertheless, the idea of exporting yams at a time inflation is on the rise despite the marginal drop in core inflation, is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse.
Data from the National Bureau of Statistics indicate a high rate of inflation in the cost of food even in states that surround Benue, where the bulk of the yams are produced. Until we achieve self-sufficiency in food production, it would be counterproductive to attempt to enter foreign markets in search of forex.
Without a doubt, exchange rate stability can also be pursued from the demand side through import substitution and patronage of locally made products. On the supply side, export of solid minerals would make better sense at this material time.
So, rather than promote the export of primary food products, we should be more concerned with processing them into semi-finished or finished products for, first and foremost, a large market such as ours. By so doing, we create job opportunities along their value chain through Small and Medium Enterprises, grow Gross Domestic Product and bring down inflation. • Dr Uche Uwaleke (Head, Banking and Finance Department, Nasarawa State University)
Nigeria’s economy can improve through the exportation of food crops. The role of agriculture in the transformation and development process of a country is like an engine in improving the general well-being of its people. Agriculture sector is the basic source of livelihood for more than 50 per cent of Nigeria. It is the vital aspect of our domestic economy providing sustenance for a majority of the citizens.
Food crop production plays an integral role in Nigeria’s economic and social development, contributing valuably to employment, food security, household income, poverty reduction and foreign exchange. It is low food production in Nigeria that is responsible for the import of over 70 per cent of our staple food. This has made the nation vulnerable to global food price volatility as some experts have noted.
Cassava, rice and palm oil are all grown in Nigeria. Today, palm oil is traditionally for the domestic market. Rice is another staple food crop that we have been importing in large quantities instead of exporting. Our country has fertile soil for rice and other crops, fruits and nuts which have huge markets abroad. Over the years, the nation has preferred importation as against supporting smallholder farmers and expanding export production.
Among other factors, the major obstacle in the production of food crops is that, smallholder farmers and cooperatives lack capital, machinery/technologies and professional expertise to independently increase the productivity of their farms.
The economy of any nation based on agriculture can improve if food crop production receives serious attention. This was how America and other nations achieved development before the use of modern technology.
Considering the economic theory of comparative advantage from international trade, which arises from differences in the factor endowment applied by the country to determine the goods and services, they (the government) should specialise in producing. The history of the United Kingdom, United States of America and Japan are clear evidences that food crops have helped to a greater extent in the process of industrialisation. • Dr Victor Chidiebere (Vice Principal, Administration, Assemblies of God Bethel Seminary, Nekede, Imo State)
Export of food crops by Nigeria to other countries will definitely improve the country’s economy. First, it will improve the foreign exchange earning of the country and this will lead to an increase in our foreign reserves.
Secondly, this will lead to improved earnings for the farmers, because they will begin to earn foreign exchange for their farm produce. We are a nation that is import-dependent. We import food items, including items as small as toothpicks.
If you recall, agriculture used to be one of the most important components of our economy. This was evident in cocoa produce and the groundnut pyramids. The country lost this when the oil boom came. It is highly commendable that this administration has picked agriculture as the veritable replacement for oil.
Exporting some of the country’s food crops will expand the nation’s food production levels.
Farmers’ would earn foreign exchange which they could use to procure machinery to boost their production level by the time they embrace mechanised farming.
Once we have this shift to farming, agriculture would help greatly in revamping the nation’s ailing economy.
Nigeria has the land, the weather is conducive and we have the human resources in abundance. If we get it right, Nigeria will not only produce enough food to feed West Africa, but the whole of the continent and beyond. • Mr. Olusegun Dasaolu (Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Ogun State chapter)
Compiled by: Success Nwogu, Mudiaga Affe, Okechukwu Nnodim, Samuel Awoyinfa and Ifeanyi Onuba