Dr Adesina’s exasperation with this staggering bill was clear when he said that such resource could be channelled into ‘meaningful development projects’ at home.
Staple food items that often feature in the bill include rice, fish, tomatoes, wheat, and sugar.
The minister, represented at the 2nd edition of Pan West African International Exhibition in Lagos, described the situation as sad. “We spend 11 billion dollars annually to strengthening other nations’ economies, instead of investing this staggering amount into programmes that have the ability to transform and drive economic development’, he observed, adding that “we need to make agriculture more attractive and viable for the youths in to have a robust economy and tackle issues dealing with youth restiveness”.
Beyond noting that the nation’s agricultural sector was going through a ‘new dawn due to the transformational agenda’, the minister did not specify, at least on that occasion, what steps the government was taking to reverse the trend he lamented.
At an earlier forum, Dr Adesina highlighted government’s creation of a ‘’staple Crop processing zone’’ that he said would reduce high levels of losses of perishable harvests; add value to raw produce exports, and enhance ‘’import substitution’’. He envisaged Nigeria to be a ‘’number one player’’ in the global food market in the near future.
The government has been promoting cassava bread in a move to stem the import of wheat. The impact is barely noticeable.
Dr Adesina said that it took 90 days to clean up a situation in which government’s purchase, sale at subsidised rates and distribution of fertilizer was not favouring farmers but “subsidising corruption, with sale of what were half-fertiliser, half-sand’’. 70 companies were already selling seeds to farmers; with 1.5 million farmers being reached through their mobile phones.
If such measures were being taken by government to minimise or even eliminate imports of these types of commodities, the record has not been impressive. It follows a tradition of failed or unsuccessful agricultural policies that the minister needs to take cognizance of.
The present administration has launched many agric-specific projects aimed at revitalising that sector. These would be particularly useful and handy if they are properly implemented.
With a receding market for crude, the country’s main economic mainstay, it would be wise to invest in agriculture now and make it, once again, the dominant sector in the social and economic life of the country.
Ending food imports should go hand in hand with a measured national productive capacity to replace such staple food items.
Doing so would require a robust investment in the sector and modernisation of its infrastructure.
The scourge of policy disruptions must be faced and addressed. Under the previous government, President Olusegun Obasanjo urged people to grow cassava but farmers were burdened with absence of markets because they could not re-direct the produce to a local manufacturing sector that was not provided for. The same fate is likely to befall the present administration’s cassava policy, unless there is consistency in its implementation combined with an aggressive drive to build and sustain the market for the end product. The 10 million dollars that Dr Adesina said would be used to train bakers to inject cassava flour into bread is coming in late. His promise of providing rice mills is also flawed by its reliance on imported mills. It is a replica of imported equipment for producing and distributing electricity, which means the same thing: high import bill. Ending high import bill without designing local technology to drive the local production of stable food crops would not make much difference.