To better place in context the drive for agricultural transformation in Nigeria, let me start with what the global picture looks like and some critical trends that must reshape the way we look at food production in Nigeria.
The world witnessed a dramatic increase in global food prices in 2007-2008, the largest increase in decades. FAD index of food prices rose by 9 % in 2006, 23% in 2007 and 54% in 2008. The total food import bill globally in 2008, estimated at $1,035 billion, exceeded that of2007 by an estimated $ 215 billion. The total number of people living on less than $1.25 per day swelled by an additional 75 million in 2008.
Across Africa the rising price of basic foods led to food riots. The poor suffered disproportionately, reducing caloric intake, shifting to lower cost and less nutritious foods, food rationing, including skipping meals.
The root cause of the food problem in Africa is deeply structural: low agricultural productivity. Total factor productivity of agriculture has been low in Sub-Saharan Africa. Between 1992 and 2003, total factor productivity in East Africa was a mere 0.4%, while West and Southern Africa averaged 1.6% and 1.3%, respectively. These rates do not keep up with the rate of population growth and calls for greater investments to raise agricultural productivity.
The International Food Policy Research Institute has shown that doubling investments in research and development in Sub-Saharan Africa will lift an estimated 144 million people out of poverty.
Today, another global food crisis looms. Food prices have risen again in 2011. Africa, which already spends over $50 billion annually on food imports, will need to spend more. As it does, it will simply be importing food inflation from global markets.
So if those events of a couple of years ago brought clarity and focus to the challenge and solution, the events of today bring a renewed urgency for action. We must translate research and innovations into impacts on farmers’ fields. And we must do this at scale that can drive down hunger and poverty.
Africa has the potential. We are blessed with abundant natural resources – twelve times the land area oflndia and less than two thirds as many people to feed. If Africa were to double its average cereal yield from one to two tons per hectare that would lead to an extra 100 million tons a year of cereals. This is enough, alone, to shift Africa from a food deficit to a major food surplus region.
But we must act quickly. As Dr Norman Borlaug once said “you cannot eat potential.” For Africa to solve its food problems it must get six things right: technologies, policies, markets, political will, financing and infrastructure. The solution has its roots in Asia, an area a Nobel Prize economist once called a “basket case.” But the Asian countries proved the world wrong by rapidly raising agricultural productivity, with the development and release of the high yielding varieties of rice and wheat which more than doubled or tripled yields. They invested heavily in irrigation and expanded investments in extension and research and development.
They did more. They knew that if farmers produced and could not sell their produce they would lose incentives to adopt new technologies. They put in place price support systems with guaranteed minimum prices. Farmers were provided with access to credit.
The results were dramatic. The area cultivated to the high yielding varieties rapidly rose from zero % in 1965 to almost 60% thirty years later. New wheat crop varieties spread rapidly from less than 2% of cultivated area in 1965 to 90% in 1995. This investment in agriculture fed the continent’s growing population and set the foundation for manufacturing and services, and decades of economic growth, employment and rising incomes.
I must submit that the current state of agriculture in Nigeria is not acceptable. Nigeria, which used to be the major player in agriculture in the world, has lost its place in the global community. In the 1960s we had glory. That glory was visible for all to see: Nigeria accounted for 60% of the global supply of palm oil, 30% of ground nut, 20-30% of ground nut oil and 15% of global supply of cocoa. Our farmers, from the North to the South generated wealth.
The quality of lives improved, children went to school. Our nation was food self sufficient. Our farmers fed us and we held up our heads in the community of nations. Today, that glory has been lost. Nigeria is now one of the largest food importers in the world. In 20 I 0 alone, Nigeria spent 635 Billion Naira on import of wheat, 356 billion Naira on importation of rice (that means we spend I Billion Naira per day on rice alone), 217 Billion Naira on sugar imports, and with all the marine resources, rivers, lakes and creeks we are blessed with, Nigeria spends 97 Billion Naira importing fish.[Editor's note: USD1 = NGN 154]
This is not fiscally, economically or politically sustainable. Nigeria is eating beyond its means. While we all smile as we eat rice every day, Nigerian rice farmers cry as the imports undermine domestic production. Our farmers sow in hope, but reap in tears, as cheap food imports dash their hopes of better prices and incomes.
As Nigeria imports food from the global market, all it is doing is importing inflation. On the other hand, low productivity of domestic production systems increases price of non-tradable food crops. Together, these lead to rise in food price inflation. With poor urban and rural households spending 70-80 percent of their incomes on food, life is unbearable for many.
Nigeria can no longer continue to depend on expensive food imports, and thin and volatile global markets, to meet its food requirements. As the events of the food crisis unfolded, traditional food exporting countries put bans on food exports. Thus even if importing countries have the resources to finance food imports the food may not be there. Food security in Nigeria is now a matter of national security.
Nigeria must learn from Asian countries. We must tap into all the resources of our farmers across our nation and deliver a green revolution that will make Nigeria self sufficient in food production. We must turn Nigeria into a breadbasket – a power house for food production. To do so, we must make a fundamental paradigm shift: Agriculture is a business, not a development program. It must be structured, developed, resourced and financed as a business.
Adesina is Nigeria’s minister of Agriculture