Floods shatter Nigeria’s food export dreams

Nigeria dreamed of a farming renaissance that would slash food bills and rival oil as its top export. It didn’t count on gun-toting herdsmen, heavy floods and a persistent Islamist insurgency.

That perfect storm of insecurity and poor planning has hobbled one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s flagship pledges  to cut an annual $22 billion in food imports just as he gears up for elections in February. It’s prolonging the West African nation’s reliance on crude revenue, a downturn which sparked a 2016 recession. There’s a “lack of strong public governance and political will to take important decisions in the areas of security,” said Femi Soneye at Mount Olive LLC, a Maryland-based company that advises Nigeria’s agriculture ministry. The government has also struggled to provide the support promised to farmers, he said.

Reviving wheat and rice production would help restore farming to the economic primacy it had before Nigeria’s 1970s oil boom. As crude revenue grew and the country became Africa’s top producer, large-scale agriculture languished. Today in Africa’s most populous nation, petroleum accounts for 90 percent of foreign-currency earnings and two-thirds of government income.

Buhari’s 2015 election and the dramatic fall in crude prices the previous year fuelled plans for a turnaround. New varieties of wheat and cocoa already Nigeria’s largest export after oil and gas were to be introduced; farmers were promised better access to credit, inputs and equipment.

The world’s 10th-largest wheat-buyer, Nigeria pledged to cut imports by 60 percent by 2025 by bringing in varieties that can thrive in warmer climates. Output, though, hasn’t shifted from an annual 60 000 tonnes. That’s dwarfed by the more than 5 million tonnes it shipped in 2017 from Russia and the US, according to the Agriculture Ministry. Processed-rice production is more disputed. The ministry forecast 38 percent growth this year to 6,5 million tonnes and officials say foreign rice arriving at ports has dropped 95 percent because of new levies. — Bloomberg.

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