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Rice imports lowest in 20 years, agric exports drive foreign trade

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
14 September 2020   |   3:06 am
Despite multifarious challenges facing the agricultural sector of the economy, indications have emerged that Nigeria’s strength truly lies in the sector if obstacles are removed and necessary infrastructure is emplaced.

Rice paddies produced in Taraba State last year

• Cocoa beans, sesame seeds lead exports
• Experts harp on standards, value chain infrastructure
• ‘1m tonnes of smuggled chicken prevented’

Despite multifarious challenges facing the agricultural sector of the economy, indications have emerged that Nigeria’s strength truly lies in the sector if obstacles are removed and necessary infrastructure is emplaced.

This follows as Nigeria’s rice importation data in 2020 has been described as the lowest in 20 years as a result of total land border control, disincentives to neighbouring countries (which imported rice to re-export), and home-grown Anchor Borrowers’ scheme in the rice value chain.

The Foreign Affairs Service (FAS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicated this in its August 2020 report. Similarly, the National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS’) Top Products by Imports and Exports for the first quarter (Q1) 2020 recent report showed that though Nigeria’s total export value decreased by 14.42% in Q1, 2020 compared to the value recorded in Q4, 2019, the value of agricultural goods exports grew 85.36% in Q1, 2020 compared to Q4, 2019 and 46.76% compared to Q1, 2019.

“The value of raw material exports,” NBS data said, “increased 60.17% in Q1,2020, relative to last quarter but decreased by 7.08% year on year.”Solid minerals exports were 16.31%, lower in Q1,2020 relative to Q4 2019 and 82.17% less than the value recorded in Q1, 2019; manufactured goods exports decreased by 12.72% in value in Q1,2020 compared to Q4,2019 and 3.86% compared to Q1, 2019.

Also, crude oil exports decreased by 18.86% in Q1, 2020 compared to Q4, 2019 and 12.80% compared to Q1, 2019. Other oil products exports decreased by 1.47% in value in Q1,2020, compared to Q4, 2019 and 4.89% compared to Q1, 2019.

By implication, only agricultural exports and raw materials (which were mostly semi-finished agricultural products) drove the export sector of the country’s international trade in the first quarter.

This buttresses the persistent calls for emplacement of farm infrastructure, such as irrigation facilities, rural road upgrade, and farm mechanization for productivity as part efforts to entrench agriculture as a major employer of labour and biggest foreign exchange earner for the country of the year.

During the quarter, total trade in agricultural goods stood at N387.7 billion (or 4.67% of the overall trade), of which exported agricultural goods accounted for N126.3 billion.

Key drivers of agricultural product exports were sesame seeds, whether or not broken (N49.1billion), good fermented Nigerian cocoa beans (N35.2billion) and superior quality cocoa beans (N16.8 billion).

Sesame seeds worth N9.8 billion, N9.5 billion and N9.3 billion were exported to Japan, Turkey and China respectively, while good fermented cocoa beans were exported mainly to The Netherlands (valued at N16.5 billion) and Germany (valued at N6.6 billion). Superior raw cocoa beans were also exported mainly to The Netherlands at a value of N11.2 billion.

In another development, the Nigeria Institute of Animal Science (NIAS) has disclosed that over one million tonnes of chicken was prevented from being smuggled into the country, translating into about 100,000 jobs along the broiler and turkey value chains, while about N50 billion was saved in the poultry sector.

The FAS of the USDA said neighboring countries served as ports of entry for parboiled rice, and arrivals through these neighboring countries largely offset the decline in rice shipped directly to Nigeria over the past couple of years.

“However, rice arriving in Nigeria and surrounding ports both began to sharply decline beginning in October 2019.

“The combination of various trade policies, economic conditions stemming from lower oil prices, and more intense border checks …, have led to lower imports through the nearby countries and ultimately on to Nigeria. As a result, Nigerian rice imports are forecast at the lowest level in about 20 years,” the USDA report said.

Meanwhile, Nigeria produced 4,536 million tonnes in 2017; 4,470m tonnes in 2018; 4,538m tonnes in 2019; 5,040m tonnes as of July, 2020, while it consumed 6,700 million tonnes in 2017; 6,750m tonnes in 2018; 6,800m tonnes in 2019; 6,550m tonnes as of July, 2020, according to the USDA production and consumption database.

Prof. Eustace Iyayi, Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Institute of Animal Science (NIAS), explained that Nigeria consumes about 2 million tonnes of poultry meat yearly, and 70% of this was smuggled into the country before the border closure.

According to the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), the closure of the border significantly reduced the smuggling of chicken into the country, saving the poultry industry about N50 billion.

Prof Iyayi added: “According to PAN, production activities in the broiler meat industry has increased to 70% from the previous 45% capacity utilisation due to the border closure. The poultry sub-sector is the most commercialised sub-sector in the agricultural sector worth about 1.6 trillion.”

He added that the government/CBN could do more to boost the sub-sector by giving support for input supply, especially maize, which constitutes about 70% of the poultry diet. “Poultry farmers should be given subsidy for day-old chicks,” he suggested, “the starting material for any poultry enterprise. Eggs should be incorporated into the School Feeding Programme and poultry farmers should be compensated in periods of adversity.”

A professor and former Dean of Agriculture at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Funso Sonaiya, commented that the government policy had promoted the export of agricultural products.

“We all remember that the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC) has been working with various potential exporters, particularly in the area of standards and this certainly is one outcome….”

Prof. Sonaiya said agriculture could replace oil as number one foreign exchange earner, saying, “Agriculture should be the basis for our economic and industrial development in Nigeria if we pay the necessary attention to its development in terms of ensuring that the right seeds are produced by breeders; that the right husbandry methods are used for crops and animals; that the right harvesting techniques and storage environments are provided.”

He added that Nigerians should realise that with agriculture, because it is renewable, food and raw materials could be produced two-three times in a year.

He recommended that first, the results of agricultural research need to be properly studied and implemented, saying, “So, we need to go back to those shelves and get all the results and use them to develop agriculture and agricultural policies. We should all put our hands on deck to develop our country through agriculture.”

Vice President, Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Mr Emmanuel Ijewere, admitted that though there are many challenges in the sector, policies of the government appear to be making an impact, and there are some more fundamental things that are evolving.

He said: “During the time of Dr Akinwumi Adesina, when he was Minister of Agriculture, he revolutionised the thinking in agriculture and started bringing people’s minds to the opportunities that exist in the space. More and more educated people are coming into the sector. And what is more interesting is the fact that those various factors negated people’s attitude towards agriculture are beginning to sort themselves out.”

Ijewere explained that oil in particular was the biggest and most destructive blow to agriculture, and forces beyond Nigeria are now changing the entire outlook in the oil sector.

The blow on the oil sector, he added, is making it dawn on Nigerians that the future is not in oil, but in agriculture.

“Monthly state allocations are no longer what they were, whereas, their various expenditures are increasing. That translates to state governments being more favorably disposed to agriculture. What we have seen is a tip of the iceberg.

“And the Ministry of Trade and Investment is now playing a positive role. Over and above that is the attitude of the CBN that has been extremely positive to agriculture. They are identifying those various obstacles and removing them. We are just beginning to see a turn-around,” he said.

Also commenting, Executive Director, Agriculture and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI), Ilorin, Dr Olufemi Oladunni, said the government efforts, policies and CBN injection of funds into the agricultural value chain have been commendable.

But, he added: “What the country needs to do is to further step it up by providing international standards for the entire value chain so that we will not have a rejection of our products at the international market as a result of poor quality.”


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