Despite the abudance of fertile lands and favourable weather considered very good for agriculture in Nigeria, the country still ranks amongst the top three net importer of food items in the world, a situation some analyst have described as worrisome.
According to the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, the Federal Government spent over N99 trillion on the importation of food between 2007 and 2010.
In his words, "Nigeria is now one of the largest food importers in the world. The food import bill of Nigeria in 2007 - 2010 was N98 Trillion or $628 billion. In 2010 alone, Nigeria spent N635 Billion on import of wheat, N356 Billion on importation of Rice (that means we spent N1 Billion per day on rice alone), N217 Billion on Sugar imports and with all the marine resources, rivers, lakes and creeks we are blessed with, Nigeria spent N97 Billion importing fish."
Alarming as the minister’s assertion might be some analyst have argued that the situation is not as bad as portrayed even though they reckon that Nigeria has to do more to be self sufficient on her food needs.
An economist, Ayo Agbaje in his submission noted that as much as Nigeria is spending millions of dollars importing some food items, the country is also making as much in its export.
"I don't like the situation where people will want to base their analysis on just half trust. In the area of cereals, wheat, rice and the likes Nigeria has not gotten it right so we do more of importing but when it comes to items like corn we rank in the first 10 exporters in the world.”
Sharing the same line of thought, an Agric Economist, Bamidele Kazeem notes that it is not enough to give the land mass and the favourable weather which many feel it is enough to drive local production as he reckons that farming has gone digital and that Nigeria still lags far behind.
"This days farming is driven my technology and having the right breeds of product, in that sense Nigeria is moving at a slow speed. To reduce or out rightly phase out food importation, we have to get it right in this aspect."
For Mr Bamidele it will be wrong to label food importation as a good or bad business. "The food importers see a vacuum and they are helping in filling the vacuum, if there was no shortage in supply locally, importation won't have come up at all.”
According to him, it will be unfair to say food importers might be sabotaging government efforts at improving local production of food.
"It is not the same with the power sector that you can be talking of monopoly; it’s just a normal business venue, people seeing a vacuum and cashing in on it.
For Mr Agbaje the onus is still on government to do the right thing by putting in place relevant policies that will motivate local food production.
"Recently the government said it was giving waivers for importers to bring rice into the country. This process will take up to four to five months before it eventually comes into the country. Why do that when it would take the same number of months if it is grown in the country,” he said.
However, the minister of Agric stated that "As minister of Agriculture working closely with the minister of state, we will never let the farmers of Nigeria down, we will revamp the agricultural sector, we will accelerate food production in clear and visible ways that will impact the lives of our people, and we will begin the hard work of restoring the lost glory of agriculture in Nigeria."
While reacting to the budgetary allocation given to agriculture recently, Mohammed Tahir Monguno (ANPP, Borno) said the Federal Government under President Goodluck Jonathan was not serious about transforming the agricultural sector because of the meager budgetary allocation in the 2012 budget proposal.
Manguno who chairs the House Committee on Agriculture, maintained that agriculture accounts for a large percent of employment in Nigeria but lamented that the government seems to be paying lip service to the revival of the sector.
"Nigeria imports food worth N1.3 trillion annually whereas we have vast agricultural land that is lying fallow. For the transformation agenda to succeed we need adequate food security. If agriculture is improved it will generate employment, provide food security. The deployment of about N1 trillion (to importation of food) is curative in nature. It will only cure the (symptoms) but it won't eradicate (the illness). Tackling the problem through preventive measures such as agricultural transformation will in turn generate employment and help combat the present state of insecurity, because we have a large army of youths that are unemployed all over the country," the lawmaker argued.
"The recent survey released by the National Bureau of Statistics should be taken seriously by every government because it is telling us that if we do not provide employment for the over 100 million people living in abject poverty, there will be a great danger ahead."
The lawmaker who represents Marte, Monguno and Nganzai Federal Constituency, lamented that in 2011 agriculture was allocated three percent of the federal budget while this year under the current estimates, the sectoral allocation was reduced to 1.6 percent of the N4.7 trillion budget.
"Agriculture was given just N79 billion for both capital and recurrent expenditure. Nigeria is a signatory to the Maputo declaration which demands that all African countries should devote 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture and countries like Ethiopia have even exceeded it by allocating 12 percent. Chad which is our neighbour here has the highest agriculture budget of 14 percent. Therefore, all we are saying is that if we can't have the 10 percent as recommended we should be allocated a minimum of 5 percent which will be around N300 billion," he said.
If the importation of goods must be stopped, the federal government needs to focus more attention on the agricultural sector. More support should be given to farmers who are producing locally as this would also help in making others gainfully employed.