On September 10 at the National Food Security Council, Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, praised the federal government’s actions for having successfully averted a food crisis during the Coronavirus pandemic. Calling for more efforts to increase domestic food production and self-sufficiency, he assured that the government would continue to promote policies that favour agricultural sector investment.
However, while the government is busy patting themselves on the back, the Nigerian population continues to face soaring food prices and the agricultural sector is buckling under the pressure.
Ayodeji Balogun, chief executive at commodities exchange AFEX, says the central bank’s lending scheme for farmers has significantly expanded output and can work long term. However, even he has reservations about the short-term situation, warning “the worst is yet to happen.”
“The country is not self-sufficient in food production in any sense,” said Nnamdi Obasi, senior Nigeria adviser at the International Crisis Group. “So, when the international food import chain is disrupted and then agriculture is also disrupted locally, that’s really a very worrisome combination for the country.”
Buhari claims that the government’s commitment to the promotion of self-sufficiency has played a significant role in averting a food crisis. Recent policies include banning importers’ access to foreign exchange and restricting foreign imports. Critics, however, argue that this initiative has not had the necessary collateral policies to support the food sector during this transition, which is not yet capable of satisfying the country’s food demands. Agricultural economist Idris Ayinde suggests that restricting food imports should be a more gradual process since the country cannot yet meet domestic demand for most food commodities, and these policies risk a further increase in food price inflation.
In the face of crashing oil prices, economic diversification is a wise decision for Nigeria. In his 2015 presidential campaign, Buhari identified the agricultural sector as a key component in his development plan with the slogan: “We will grow what we eat and eat what we grow.” Unfortunately, it is not certain if the agricultural sector can rise to the occasion.
Once a major source of revenue for Nigeria, decades of neglect in favour of the oil-generated income has left Nigeria’s farming sector weak. While two-thirds of the Nigerian population is involved in agriculture, according to Bloomberg, the productivity rate is very low. Furthermore, crop yields over recent years have been restricted by banditry, climate change pressures, and economic limitations. Until now, domestic farmers have not had the capacity to satisfy the demands of Africa’s most populous country.
Unsurprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic has not improved the situation. According to a recent report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Nigeria is one of the countries worst hit by the food crisis across the globe in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. While COVID-19 restrictions on movement exempted agriculture, these measures still hit food services, transportation, and processing. As a result, Nigeria’s agricultural output fell by about 13%. The International Food Policy Research Institute predicts that the real food supply crunch will come at the end of this year into next.
In regard to international imports, the supply chains were also disrupted as major grain exporters limited shipments because of the pandemic. Despite Buhari’s efforts, Nigeria is still heavily dependent on international trade for its staples, importing more than a tenth of its food supply, according to Bloomberg. This vulnerability has led to a surge in food prices according to reports released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Maize prices have risen from 180,000 nairas ($470) per tonne from approximately 70,000 nairas ($183) in March.
Food insecurity and competition for resources can not only increase poverty rates but can also exacerbate pre-existing conflict issues. While economic diversification is key to future economic development for Nigeria, without the necessary supporting policies, restrictions on food imports may create more issues. Unfortunately for Nigeria, the fight to avoid a food crisis is not yet over.