Farmers, processors express readiness to meet Nigeria’s food demand despite gaps

• FUNAAB DVC says, ‘Not immediately’
• VC insists farmers are capable

Nigerian farmers and food processors have expressed readiness to close the gap between food demand and supply despite the closure of borders against smuggling and restriction on food importation. They also urged the government to ignore unnecessary pressure to reverse the policies, saying Nigeria should not become a dumping ground for foreign foods.

Particularly, rice farmers and processors emphatically claimed that with adequate support from the government and patronage by Nigerians, they could close the demand-supply gap, and export rice to the African marketplaces under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) to which the country is a signatory.

A rice processor in Ibadan, Oyo State, Dr (Mrs) Abiola Olagunju, claimed during an interview with The Guardian that the so-called imported rice was fraudulently packaged as imported rice to rob Nigerians.She said, “Let me tell you that the so-called imported rice is not really imported. If the border is now closed, why won’t the rice be available to us?”

She explained that the gap is being closed because farmers are now confident of going back to the farm to produce, knowing they have a ready market.   “Since they know that they have a market, they will go back to the farm. They will produce it more because they have the market to sell. And it will improve our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Pa Samuel Akinade, chairman of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Oyo State chapter, also believed that with a more conducive operational environment for farmers and processors, local rice would become cheaper, and there would be excess for storage or export.

When asked if Nigerian rice farmers are capable of feeding the country with local rice, Pa Akinade said, “Definitely, Nigerian farmers are ready to farm and feed the nation. We are available and the Federal Government is supporting us. We have received and we are still receiving support. Yes. We are capable.”He added that “if the borders remain closed, farmers will be encouraged to cultivate more crops. More farmers have been coming to register for dry season rice farming now.”

A former chairman of the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) in the state, Mr John Olateru, also believes that farmers in Nigeria are capable of feeding the country if adequately equipped with resources. The small-scale farmers, he claimed, have been at the forefront of producing food for the country since the colonial era, with no concrete and sustainable support system for them. Olateru said, “It is good news that the government has finally acted on our demand to close porous borders. At least for the first time, we are trying to correct the wrongs.

“Now that the borders have been effectively controlled, people are now happy moving into agriculture. The needed market has been created, and the demand for foreign food is disappearing.“People are now having the courage to taste the locally made food and they are seeing the difference. It may be a little high at the moment, but I can assure you that people are now going into agriculture. So, before the end of the year, prices will come down. It is a question of demand and supply.”

Comparing the quality and taste of local and imported rice and poultry products, Olateru said, “The so-called imported rice is just like poultry products; they are expired products they are using chemicals to preserve. But if you taste our own rice and locally produced chicken, you would see the differences.”

Another rice processor and farmer based in Kogi State, Mr Hafiz Oladejo, said, “I am confident that with support, farmers and processors will feed Nigerians with quality rice.”He explained the support to mean financial and technical assistance from the Federal Government and states, including improved varieties of seeds, recommended rice fertiliser, tractor services, rural infrastructure upgrade and extension services.

Food production indices have indicated that Nigeria produces about 100,000 metric tonnes of wheat while it consumes four million metric tonnes, with a deficit of 3.9 million tonnes yearly. Rice production shortfall for this year is predicted to be 3.12 million tonnes while in 2020, it will be 3.21 million tonnes.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) says that Nigeria needs approximately 16 million metric tonnes of maize yearly, but it produces about 12 million tonnes, with a shortfall of about four million tonnes.The yearly demand for sugar is estimated to be 1.5 million, while the country produces less than 10 per cent of the demand.Nigeria citrus juice deficit with an estimate of 415 million litres, according to data from the National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), Ibadan, Oyo State.

The national production of citrus is estimated at 135 million litres of orange juice, while the demand is 550 million litres.The Plantation Owners Forum of Nigeria (POFON) based on the data available to the forum, said crude palm oil consumption is about 1.4 million tonnes. So, there is a demand gap of between 400,000 and 500,000 metric tonnes.

Closing the deficiency gaps, farmers, researchers and food processors have consistently argued, requires preventing smuggling, mechanisation of agriculture, a structured and simplified agro-financing system, rural infrastructure development and price stability of farm produce through a sustainable market.

Only one aspect is being experimented, and stakeholders have called on the government, especially at the state level, to, for once, truly support food production by investing in the foregoing. However, while commenting on farmers’ capacity to feed the country, Prof. Sanni Lateef, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), said, “Not immediately, but on the medium and long terms, it is very possible.”One good advantage of the policies, he explained, is that the current partnership between Federal and State Government on Anchor Borrower’s Programmes would allow farmers immediate access to credit facilities and agro-inputs for mass production.

“The processing factories require upgrade and scaling to enhance their capabilities. Of course, immediate investments in rural roads and electricity are required,” he added.“Strengthening of commodity exchanges and food reserves at the national level are other critical points to note. Availability, accessibility and affordability of food must be achieved with this laudable initiative,” he advised.

Mr Lakan Ayangbola, CAFFAN chairman in Oyo State, while explaining capacity of fish farmers to feed Nigerians with adequate fish, said production expansion and productivity had been impaired by unfavourable operation environment. “It has been challenging from the angle of inputs. Getting the feeds for the fishes cost so much. I must add that 75 per cent of the proceeds from fish farming is used up in the procurement of feeds. At the moment, the cost of feeds is relatively high, and this increases the cost of production,” he said.

This, he added, “has not been easy and it has affected productivity and profitability. For this reason, some of our members have not been motivated to produce at optimal capacity.” A Lagos-based Nigerian, Uka Obisike Uzoije, also expressed doubt about the ability of the farmers, at the moment, to meet up with the demand for food.He said, “A lot of people are feeling it now. Basically, Nigeria is an importation-dependent country. Yes, we grow our food, but because of the high population and less investment in agriculture, we are not food-sufficient.”

He added that most staple foods like rice are smuggled from other countries, particularly Benin Republic. The notion now, he said, is that the prices of foodstuff will go high, saying, “A bag of rice sold at the rate of 18,000 now costs between N23,000 and N25,000, depending on your residential area.”
Contrary to Uzoije’s view, a rice processor in Nigeria, Mr Amos Fakunle, said farmers are capable, and that the unfolding events in this year’s harvest season would prove the argument that Nigeria can produce enough food.

He said, “Nigerian farmers are able if the government will provide the right atmosphere of security. They should provide improved varieties of seeds. The road network and electricity generation are important too. When farmers produce, processors will buy and Nigerians will buy because we have decided to look inward.

Backing the view of the processor, a grain breeder and current Vice Chancellor, Al-Qalam University, Katsina State, Prof. Sheu Garba Ado, insisted that Nigeria has all that is needed for not only food self-sufficiency, but also surplus production for reserves or export.  “We have all the factors of production: land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship. If only the government will maintain its stand of restrictions on importation, we shall, within three years, be food self-sufficient and have surplus for industrial use and export,” he said.

Fertiliser, he added, is now produced in excess of the local requirements, and therefore, exported to other countries. “If the seed sector meets the expectations of ensuring supply of quality seeds as well as quality agro chemicals, the amounts of food crops to be produced can lead to a green revolution. Even in Asia, their green revolution which had been well celebrated was brought about by the availability of quality farm inputs,” he explained.

He also emphasised the role quality seeds could play in the efforts, saying the quality would determine the genetic potential of the crop while fertiliser and other inputs would enable the expression of that potential. He concluded that “labour is generally available in the majority of the farming families, and commercial agriculture is also coming along. So, Nigerian farmers can definitely not only feed the expanding population, but also provide surplus for value addition and export to our neighbouring countries who heavily depend on Nigeria for food and other sources of livelihood.”