‘Nigeria Living On Borrowed Time’ – World Bank Chief, Adetunji Oredipe

Ifeanyi Onuba, Abuja

The Senior Agriculture
Economist, World Bank, Dr Adetunji Oredipe, on Thursday said the neglect
of the agricultural sector when Nigeria’s economy became increasingly
dependent on oil has proved to be a “disaster”.

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He said if
Nigeria had held to its market share in palm oil, cocoa, groundnut and
cotton, the country would be earning at least $10bn annually from these
commodities.

Oredipe said this while delivering a keynote address at the agriculture summit Africa in Abuja, sponsored by Sterling Bank Plc.

The
event was attended by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo who was represented
by the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mustapha
Shehuri; Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs Paulen Talen; Governor of Kebbi
State, Atiku Bagudu; Chairman of Sterling Bank Plc, Asue Ighodalo; and
the Managing Director of Sterling Bank Plc, Abubakar Suleiman.

Painting
a picture of the country’s agricultural sector, the World Bank agric
economist said Nigeria was now one of the largest food importers in the
world.

He said in 2016 alone, Nigeria spent $965m on the importation of wheat, $39.7m to import rice and $100.2m on sugar importation.

Oredipe
said the decision to spend $655m on fish importation seemed financially
irresponsible given all the marine resources, rivers, lakes, and creeks
in Nigeria.

He said, “None of the above transactions
(importation of rice, fish, sugar) is fiscally, economically or
politically sustainable.

“Nigeria is tragically living on borrowed time, a typical case of robbing Peter to pay.

“For
instance, each time we spend money to import rice, Nigerian local rice
farmers are negatively affected in terms of morale, sales, and
realisable income.”

He lamented that despite the huge
agricultural potential, Nigeria which used to be the major player in
agriculture in the world has lost its place in the global community.

He said, “In the 1960s, we had glory. That glory was visible and significant for the global community to recognise and applaud.

“Nigeria accounted for 42 per cent of the world’s exports of shelled groundnuts. Our total export volume was 502, 000 MT.

“This declined to 356 MT by 2016. Nigeria lost her leadership position and was overtaken by the USA, China, and Argentina.

“Nigeria
was also the largest exporter of palm oil in the world and accounted
for 27 per cent of the global export volume for palm oil.

“Indonesia
alone recorded US$16.5bn, 54.5 per cent of total palm oil exports.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is not listed among the first 15 as at this
moment.”

He said the huge taste of Nigerians for imported food items had also contributed to high levels of unemployment for the youths.

Oredipe
said, “Food producing factories in Western world, Far East Asia and
other countries employ millions of young people to produce and export
food. “This is a source of livelihood and it helps the workers to live
well and go to school.

To reverse this trend, he said the
government must articulate a clear vision to achieve a hunger-free
Nigeria, through an agricultural sector that drives income growth.

In
doing this, he said the vision of the government should be to revive
the rural economy by transforming Nigeria into an agriculturally
industrialised economy, create wealth, jobs, and markets for farmers.

He
added, “We also need to realise that it is extremely difficult to
produce, process and market at the same time. It is better to specialise
and pick a certain aspect to focus on.”

He also said government
should rigorously and transparently evaluate all major policies and
initiatives aimed at boosting agricultural development.

The
economist said a closer focus on agricultural finance schemes could
boost its potential to foster an enabling environment to crowd-in
private investment.

“The most fundamental cause of low investment
in agriculture is the low expected profitability, which stems from low
productivity. Additional factors contributing to this situation include
an unfavourable business climate; infrastructural deficiencies; limited
access and use of long-term business credit; and the high risk of
investment,” he added.

He also said there was need to address the
issue of high post-harvest losses, especially for perishables such as
horticulture produce.

Oredipe said Nigeria produces 1.8 million
MT of tomatoes per year, accounting for 68 per cent of the total
production of West Africa.

However, he added, over 45 per cent of this is lost annually due to postharvest losses.

Despite
this, he said, Nigeria continued to spend over N16bn annually on tomato
paste importation making the country the largest importer of tomato
paste from China and Italy.

He said, “We need to find better ways
to link farmers with off-takers and processers. Our off-takers imports
food items being produced by our farmers because they are not aware of
the products in the local market.”

The VP in his speech at the
event said the Federal Government recognised the importance of the
agriculture sector to food security, job creation and poverty reduction.

He
said the sector was one of the priority areas of the government, adding
that this was why various intervention programmes were being
implemented under the Agricultural Promotion Policy.

He said, “It
is heart-warming that agriculture is fast becoming the buzz across
trade and investment circles particularly in the face of perennially
dwindling oil prices and devaluation and the attendant desire of
government to diversify the economy.

“The need to get everybody
into agriculture has been one of the cardinals of the Economic Recovery
and Growth Plan of the Federal Government with emphasis on developing an
export-led economy.

“Our agenda is to guarantee the vibrancy of the sector; agriculture must be seen as a business and haven for investment.”

Osinbajo
said the government was integrating food production, storage, food
processing and industrial manufacturing to establish linkages necessary
in the agricultural commodity value chain.

Source:- Punchng

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