Mixed reactions trailed the country’s agric sector’s performance in the first quarter of this year, as there were no severe headwinds at the beginning of the year, until of late, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused hitches to free flow of supply and distribution of agro-allied products nationwide amid boundaries closure.
Activities in the country’s agric sector during the first quarter of this year was relatively challenging, although the support from the present administration curtailed the difficulties. In fact, the burning issue, RUGA, that dominated the sector last year, was well managed this time. However, the most important development in the sector at the beginning of the year was the fallout of Federal Government’s border closure policy. Despite taking advantage of the closure to boost local rice supply nationwide, the Presidency reacted swiftly towards the end of the quarter that the price of local rice was on the high side and threatened to review the rice importation policy, unless the local producers reviewed their price downward.
FG’s border closure
In fact, the country’s border closure policy came into effect at a period that Nigeria had appended her signature to the African Continental Free Trade Area (Af- CFTA) treaty, which is expected to take-off in July this year. Besides, the Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, revealed at an agric forum at the beginning of the year that plans were afoot by the Federal Government to export local rice to other countries in the next two years. In addition, following public outcry and outrage over the current price of local rice in the country, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) in conjunction with the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RiFAN) pledged that plans were afoot to review downward the price of local rice to N10,000 by September this year.
EU beans ban
Also, in the quarter under review, the Cowpea and Beans Farmers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria disclosed that plans were in top gear that would see Nigeria export quality beans to the Euro-pean market, as the ban placed on the country is expected to be lifted by 2021. National President of the association, Shittu Mohammed, disclosed this in Abuja. In January 2013, the European Union (EU) placed a temporary suspension on imports of the item. “We are trying to get silo from the government for the 36 states where we can store our beans. We are also working at setting up laboratories in the states where the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control can test the beans before export. This is to ensure that no beans go out of the country without properly been tested,” Mohammed said.
Agro-allied industry set up
During the first quarter, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to establish agro-allied industry in each state of the federation in a bid to achieve food security and stimulate economic activities. Speaking on the development, the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mariam Katagum, confirmed that the ministry was saddled with the responsibility of making this laudable task a reality. Katagum explained that the plan to establish agro-allied industry in each senatorial district in the country was parts of government’s effort to achieve food security and stimulate economic activities.
Covid-19 pandemic and food scarcity
However, the most topical event in the sector in the first quarter of the year was the Covid-19 pandemic impact on Nigerian agriculture as All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) and other key associations raised the alarm that many of their agro-allied products meant for Lagos markets and others have remained stuck nationwide due to sudden boundary closure. AFAN National President, Kabir Ibrahim, admitted that the coronavirus pandemic posed a big threat to sustenance of food availability in Nigeria and globally, adding that it was the duty of local farmers to rescue the economy at this period by providing food to feed the entire Nigerian populace. The AFAN president noted that the spread of coronavirus across the globe was frightening in all aspects since it has disrupted the world economy with Nigerian economy not left out of it effect. Similarly, the Chairman, Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Association of Small scale Industrialists, Gertrude Akhimien, explained that President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive on Lagos, Ogun states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, had led to huge losses running into millions of naira to them, as some states have refused the passage of agro-allied commodities. NASI Lagos State chairman explained that the impact of the lockdown was threatening food security and safety in the country, especially Lagos State.
ABP loan repayment
In February, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) reported that out of a total of N622 billion disbursed by the bank to commercial banks under the Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme (CACS), about N387.2 billion was repaid. This signified that Nigerian farmers were meeting up with the agric loans repayment under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP).
Tomato supply gap
Also in the first quarter of the year, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, assured that local tomato farmers and processors would be sufficiently financed under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) to meet local demand and bridge an annual shortfall of over 1.2 million tonnes valued at about $2.5 billion annually, which is met through importation and smuggling.Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony of Tomato Jos Farming and Processing Limited located in Kaduna, Emefiele said that CBN, as far back as June 2015, before the current tomato policy was approved in 2017, had excluded importers of 41 items from accessing foreign exchange at the Nigerian foreign exchange (forex) markets, to import it.
In early January, the Central Bank of Nigeria indicated that it would support the cocoa value chain to increase the production of quality cocoa and assist farmers on best practices. The National President of Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), Adeola Adegoke, in an interview, said the association had met with CBN and it expressed readiness to intervene in the value chain. Adegoke further said that sensitisation and training of cocoa farmers were ongoing across the cocoa-producing states on the best way to produce quality cocoa for the market.
FAO food crisis forecasts
Around March, it was reported by the Food and Agriculture Organisation that no fewer than 16 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory were identified to face food and nutrition crisis between June and August this year. The affected states, according to the FAO, include Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Benue, Gombe, Taraba, Katsina, Jigawa, Kano, Bauchi, Plateau, Kaduna, Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, and Niger. The report was contained in the Cadre Harmonisè (CH) of the FAO, where it also put the figure of Nigerians to be affected by the crisis at about seven million. In the third phase of the CH, FAO said that it expected about four million people across the affected states to face stiffer experiences in May.
savings Another key event in the quarter under review was the report by President Muhammadu Buhari that the country in recent times had saved millions of dollars that would have otherwise been expended on food importation. The president further said that the country had almost achieved self-sufficiency in food production. This news came six months after the president said he had directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to stop providing traders with foreign exchange for food importation into the country.
Notably, the first quarter of this year for Nigeria’s agric sector can be said to be relatively stable. But with the signs the Covid-19 pandemic are showing, it means there are rough days ahead for the country’s agric sector with food scarcity, hunger and poverty looming.