Milk First, Food Next – The Nigerian Gov’t Wants To Cut Off Food Imports At All Costs But It Could Prove Too Costly

By  |  August 14, 2019

For many years, the story of Nigeria has been one of having so much potential yet churning out very little in terms of output. And perhaps no other sector epitomises this unfortunate trend as much as the country’s agricultural sector.

Nigeria is undoubtedly blessed with fertile lands and pristine climate — attributes that should support mass production of various kinds of agricultural products — but a combination of poor management of resources and very little commercial agriculture investments have connived to make the country some sort of perpetual importer of all kinds of crops; even basic food crops that can be grown its own backyard.

When President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office for his first tenure in 2015, he declared the commitment of his administration to improving the fortunes of the country’s agricultural sector and it didn’t come as a surprise given that past administrations had made similar brazen claims about wanting to overhaul the entire sector. 

And because President Buhari actually owns a farm in his hometown, coupled with the fact that many Nigerians were actually optimistic about the “change” which the new administration promised, there was cause for hope. But even as President Buhari was returned to office for a second tenure early this year, word on the street is that things have only gotten worse, even though the view from Aso Rock is that Nigeria is doing much better.

Some weeks back, President Buhari spoke at an event where he declared that his administration has lifted five million Nigerians out of extreme poverty in three years, which is quite a bold declaration given that Nigeria still wears the ugly tag that says the country is the poverty capital of the world. And sure enough, many Nigerians called out the President for making a claim that completely contrasts the real situation of things.

The feeling among people is that the President is convinced the country is doing really well when it really isn’t. The agricultural policies of the government in recent times, for instance, give off the hint that the government may be overestimating the success of its efforts at revamping the agricultural sector.

It started with talks of forex restrictions on milk imports — a move aimed at encouraging local production. But many Nigerians are far from convinced that enough has been put in place to foster local mass production of such a vital commodity, and many others are concerned that restricting milk imports at a time when there’s nothing to indicate that enough of the commodity can be produced locally will only cause scarcity and price hikes — affecting the common man ultimately.


Be that as it may, the Nigerian government sure looks to be forging ahead with its plans of boosting the local production of basically everything even though it has hardly matched those plans with visible, massive capital investments on the homefront.

Just yesterday, President Muhammadu Buhari revealed that he has directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stop providing foreign exchange for importation of food into the country.

The president tethered the decision to the “steady improvement in agricultural production, and attainment of full food security” — again, a claim that will be rebuffed by just about anyone with even the slightest grasp of the true situation of things in the country.

The President made this declaration on Tuesday, August 13, in hometown, Daura, Katsina State while on Eid-el-Kabir break.

“Don’t give a cent to anybody to import food into the country. We have achieved food security, and for physical security, we are not doing badly,’’ Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity), quoted him as saying in a release.

President Buhari noted that some states like Kebbi, Ogun, Lagos, Jigawa, Ebonyi and Kano had already taken advantage of the government’s policy on agriculture with huge returns in rice farming, urging more states to plug into the ongoing revolution to feed the nation.

He said the country’s foreign reserve should be used strictly for diversification of the economy and not for encouraging more dependence on foreign food.

From the look of things, the Nigerian president obviously has noble intentions as there is nothing wrong with wanting a nation to feed itself by itself and probably still have enough left for export, but the issue is the timing and execution of such plans.

Concerned Nigerians have argued that stopping food imports is one thing, whereas producing enough food locally to feed the entire nation is quite another. And Nigeria just doesn’t have the capacity yet, despite Buhari’s claims.

Between aging farmers who form the bulk of the agricultural manpower, poor agricultural inputs, obsolete farming techniques, little or no mechanisation, lack of agricultural extension, poor storage systems, bad roads, and poor logistics/supply channels, among others, Nigeria’s agricultural sector just can’t cut it, at least, for now. And placing the entire food needs of some 200 million individuals on a system that is still unable to stand on its feet is just downright wild.

Many fear that placing restrictions on the importation of food will do more harm than good if the government doesn’t first get it right on the homefront completely. And it’s easy to see why. 

If local production doesn’t meet demand and there is nothing coming from the outside to compensate, food scarcity will become the order of the day and it’s common knowledge what happens to price when a product becomes scarce; it goes up.

Others are lauding the government over its drive to boost local agricultural efforts but are wary of measures that will hurt the populace more than it helps it.

The summary of the situation is that the government is convinced that suddenly cutting off food imports will cause local food production to increase. But even as those two things are not entirely mutually exclusive, they are not exactly related such that the absence of one forces the presence of the other. Banning food imports will not magically cause local food production to rise if no deliberate measure is put in place to actually boost local production.

That said, the government might want to first get its house in order, such that a decent level of agricultural productivity is attained locally, before progressively cutting off imports in a controlled manner. 

This would prevent undue strain on the populace as it is a much better move than spelling out executive orders from the comfort of a country home or the Presidential Villa — some of which may seem insensitive to the plight of the average Nigerian — under the guise of moving the country forward.

Featured Image Courtesy: TVC News

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