‘Nigeria commodity ecosystem needs expansion to meet demands’
Barrister Richard-Mark Mbaram is the Chief Executive Officer of AgroNigeria/AgroAfrica and co-convener of the Farm2Fork Dialogue. In this interview with KEHINDE OLATUNJI, he spoke on the challenges facing the agriculture sector and the need to shore up productivity across its value chains by encouraging the consumption of Nigerian made commodities and curb excessive smuggling.
What is the theme of this year’s event and why the choice?
The Farm2Fork dialogue is themed “Eliminating the Economic impediments to a Prosperous Commodity Agribusiness”. This was informed by the need to interrogate the causative issues resulting in the current reality of agro-commodity deficits in the country and to evolve a trajectory for short-medium and long-term solutions, premised on an inclusive template. My organization also hosts the Feed Nigeria Summit, the Nigeria Agriculture Awards and the AgroAfrica Dialogue on an annual basis.
What is the relevance of the theme to the economic development of the country?
Despite the present administration’s financial investments towards Nigeria’s food security agenda, the sector is still underperforming. In a bid to shore up productivity across value chains by encouraging the consumption of Nigerian made commodities, while curbing excessive smuggling, the government in August enforced the closure of Nigeria’s land borders. This move was trailed by several stakeholder and market reactions. Put simply, the closure has shed light on the fact that the nation’s agro-commodity production is considerably short of demand. The Farm2ForkDialogue therefore is a bold response to this challenge, amongst others.
What role has AgroNigeria played in the past to improve food security in Nigeria?
AgroNigeria; the Voice of Nigerian Agriculture is an integrated agro-centric media company, famed for its cutting-edge reportage of critical happenings in the Nigerian agricultural landscape and galvanizing government and its agricultural policies closer to realities in the space. Our magazine and virtual platforms do not just chronicle crucial news and features of happenings in Nigerian agriculture, but also serve as a regular repository of data and policy reportage for research and development purposes. Our online platform – www.agronigeria.ng has remained the zenith of the industry in Nigeria for over a decade. We are also credited for creating awareness for the outbreak of the deadly tomato disease; Tuta Absoluta dubbed Tomato Ebola. Town hall meetings, organized across all six geopolitical zones of the country to sensitize farmers on mechanisms for protecting their produce from the pest – formed the core of our awareness campaign.
The Feed Nigeria Summit (FNS); organized annually by AgroNigeria is the country’s flagship agricultural sector convocation, which provides a unique platform for stakeholders in the sector to track and support the efforts of governments at all levels in a bid to reinforce Nigeria’s march towards self- sufficiency in agricultural production. This piggybacks on the enormous input of the private sector as the pivotal force behind the country’s contemporary agricultural attainment.
The Nigeria Agriculture Awards – another brainchild of AgroNigeria was birthed as the first of such platforms to recognize individuals and groups who have contributed to the re-emergence of Nigeria as a veritable force in Agriculture. The award ceremony heralded in November 2014 and has been a yearly ritual ever since, consistently and successfully placing Nigerian agriculture on the front burner of national consciousness and giving stakeholders in the sector a well-deserved but oft-denied national and international prominence. In 2017, the planning committee of the NAA introduced a cash-prize backed Youth Project and Essay Competition for undergraduates and secondary school students, with the overarching aim of raising a generation of agric-savvy youths with the wherewithal to trigger an agriculture revolution in Nigeria.
What is your assessment of the border closure by the Federal Government, would you say it was a good decision?
While the intention that informed the border closure directive was indeed laudable, it goes without saying that the country’s agricultural ecosystem is confronted with attendant market distortions, specifically scarcity and price hike of major commodities, rice in particular. Without a holistic solution as against a knee-jerked one, this state of affairs portends untold negative implications for the food and nutrition security of the Nigerian nation and speaks to the need for clear decisive and objective measures.
Do you think there is still rice smuggling in the country and at what rate?
According to the National President, Rice Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Aminu Goronyo, the rice industry has gained over N52.21bn since the border closure. What this means is that people are consuming local rice more than they used to. Although there are reported cases of smuggling through alternative routes, I can say that smuggling is now at a reduced level.
What can be done to address the issues of massive smuggling of rice into the country?
As has been established, there are mixed reactions by stakeholders operating within Nigeria’s economic landscape and while it is tempting to view reopening of the borders as a viable means of escaping this quagmire, we would only have succeeded in trading more holistic solutions for temporary succor, particularly now that alternative smuggling routes are being discovered. Evidently, the Nigerian commodity ecosystem needs to expand more than what is currently obtainable. It is only when demands are met with affordable and available locally produced commodities that smuggling can significantly reduce.
What can be done to address the challenges of high cost of rice in the country?
The realities of the sector are such that rice producers and processors will keep falling short should they attempt to rein in their cost of production for ‘affordable’ pricing. Nigeria’s paddy (unrefined rice) is currently the most expensive in the world.
A turnaround in Nigeria’s rice production landscape without improved infrastructure, production and milling activities is simply beyond the bounds of possibility.
Do you think farmers are getting enough assistance?
Agriculture is now really sophisticated and cannot be reduced to distributing fertilizers. That said, there is need for more action around policy, finance, agro-industrialization, proliferation of technology and strategic partnerships between the private sector and the government. All these are what the Farm2Fork Dialogue seeks to address with long-lasting and inclusive solutions.
Can the Agricultural sector meet the economic needs of the vast Nigerian population?
Nigeria has the ability to feed itself and indeed the rest of Africa. The agriculture sector has proven time and again to be a viable alternative to oil. The potentials of the sector are such that have been described as key to Nigeria’s food security, job creation and prosperity agenda, should they be adequately harnessed and leveraged.
Who are the target audience in the forthcoming event?
They include, farmer groups and cooperatives , financial institutions, research institutions, organize Private Sector, regulatory bodies, the federal ministry of agriculture and Rural Development, state ministries of agriculture, manufacturers and food processors.
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