The Federal Government is looking to boost agricultural exports to earn more hard currency, and aims to cut imports of rice and wheat which together cost it almost $4 billion a year, Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbeh has said.
Nigeria emerged from recession in the second quarter as oil revenues rose, but growth was sluggish. The government has touted agriculture as a way to wean the country off its oil dependence, improving access to finance and introducing policies to try to encourage private investment.
In a sign of progress, Ogbe said Africa’s most populous nation would be self-sufficient in unmilled rice this year, though milling capacity was constraining output which he expected would be increased by April next year.
He said Nigeria needed 12 million tons of unmilled rice to achieve eight million tonnes of milled rice to meet local demand, and the country’s production was approaching 20 million tonnes of unmilled rice this year.
Unmilled rice production was 7.85 million tons in 2016 and was just 4.54 million in 2010, government figures show.
“We redesigned the agricultural programme … clearly saying that we are looking for an alternative to oil and gas.
“The simple thing in diversifying the economy (is) to increase local production of staples and substitute for imports – top of which is rice and wheat,” Ogbe said in an interview in Abuja, adding the rice policy would save Nigeria $1.6 billion yearly.
Ogbe said a similar policy had worked with sorghum and now the country was able to meet local demand, especially for the beer industry, substituting for barley imports.
On wheat, he said the plan was to cut imports by 2019 as current output of 300,000 tonnes grows thanks to better seed.
Ogbe said the government was aware that crude oil demand would probably decline over the next 10 years and had made a call to boost agriculture, which contributes around 40 per cent to its gross output and is growing.
Africa’s biggest economy earned $12.9 billion in non-oil revenues in 2013. Ogbe expects agriculture will generate around $40 billion in five years time, nearly the same as the country earns from crude exports, as it looks to boost sales of cocoa, cashew, livestock, coconut oil, sesame seed, cassava.