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Nigeria aims to improve food production
August 7, 2017, 5:25 pm

Despite being blessed with plenty of agriculture land and weather that allows for year-round profitable cash crop production, Nigeria is still not self-sufficient in food and spends a fortune on agricultural imports each year.

From available records, an estimated 600 million tonnes of food is imported into the country annually. In 2015, the country imported over three million metric tonnes of rice. Nigeria spends about $240 million importing rice every year and is currently the world's second highest rice importing nation after China. Once a power broker in sugar exports, Nigeria now spends in excess of $190 million annually to import sugar, $525 million goes to the importation of wheat and $334 million on fish.

However, it is the importing of cassava that has ignited the most controversy in recent years. Last year it was reported that many supermarkets in the country were selling imported refined cassava powder, locally known as garri, from India and other neighboring countries in Africa. This is height of ignominy for the government and is totally inexcusable on the part of food regulatory authorities, as Nigeria is not only the world’s largest producer of cassava — with over 45 million metric tonnes produced each year; accounting for almost 80 percent of global cassava production — it is also the world’s largest exporter of the commodity.

One reason for the anomaly, where the country imports finished food products of crops cultivated locally, is the government’s neglect of the agricultural sector over the years, especially during the oil boom period. Despite increasing demand for food products from a rapidly growing population, the government spends less than three percent of its annual national budget on agriculture.

Nigerian people also share a part of the blame for the country’s increased food importation, as they tend to believe that imported products are better than local products, irrespective of the actual quality of the product. In the case of garri, there is widespread assumption that imported garri, from neighboring countries such as Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, and now, India, is somehow of better quality than those produced locally.

The government under President Muhammadu Buhari says it is determined to change the status quo with its new Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA). Among other things, the ATA could see cassava, along with sorghum, cotton, rice and cocoa being identified as prospective foreign exchange earners, and aggressively promoted by establishing new fertilizer plants, improving crop production methods and increasing processing facilities for these crops in Nigeria.

In line with this, a new fertilizer plant with a production capacity of 1.5 million metric tonnes of Urea was inaugurated in Port Harcourt last week. The Indorama Eleme Fertilizer and Chemicals Limited, built at a cost of $1.5 billion and considered one of the largest single-train urea plants in the world, will have a production capacity of 4,000 metric tonnes of nitrogenous fertilizer per day.

The new fertilizer plant is expected to launch a green revolution in the country by making fertilizers readily available to farmers at affordable cost, thereby boosting crop production, minimizing food grain deficit, and helping the country become self-sufficient in food products.

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