The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), said more than one million smallholders farmers had access to finance through its Anchor Borrowers Programme.

Nigeria’s continued neglect of its agriculture sector is costing a loss of about $10 billion to its economy every year, the World Bank has said.

A Senior Agricultural Economist with the World Bank, Adetunji Oredipe, described the country’s neglect of agriculture as a calamity and disaster.

Mr Oredipe was speaking at the Sterling Bank Plc’s agriculture summit in Abuja on Thursday.

Rather than focusing all its attention on the revenue from crude oil exports, the specialist urged government at all levels to diversify the country’s economic base by investing in the development of the country’s agricultural sector.

“If Nigeria had held to its market share in palm oil, cocoa, groundnut and cotton, its earnings from these commodities would today build up to at least $10 billion per year,” he said.

The result of the continued neglect of its agricultural sector where the country has a comparative advantage, Mr Oredipe said, is why Nigeria is now one of the largest food importers in the world.

“In 2016 alone, Nigeria spent about $965 million on the importation of wheat, $39.7 million to import rice and $100.2 million on sugar imports. The decision to spend $655 million on fish importation seems financially indiscreet given all the marine resources, rivers, lakes, and creeks in Nigeria,” Mr Oredipe said.

“None of the above transactions is fiscally, economically, or politically sustainable,” he added.

Mr Oredipe said Nigeria is living ”on borrowed times,” likening it to a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

”Each time we spend money to import rice, Nigerian local rice farmers are negatively affected, in terms of morale, sales, and realisable incomes,” he added.

The failure of successive governments to maximally utilise the country’s potentials in agriculture, the World Bank agriculture specialist said, was responsible for the poor quality of lives of the majority of the populace.

Nigeria’s inability to engender meaningful development in spite of her huge resources’ endowments, he said, has greatly affected her quest for improved quality of life for its people.

“Nigeria has huge potentials in the agricultural sector as evidenced by an arable land potential of 98 million hectares, out of which 74 million hectare are cultivatable.

“Sadly, till date, Nigeria’s agricultural potential remains untapped, with only 34 million hectares, about 48 per cent, currently being utilised for agricultural uses,” he said.

He referenced a Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) report on Competitive Commercial Agriculture for Africa, which shows that Africa, especially Nigeria and Mozambique, have vast areas of savannahs that can become the breadbasket for the rest of the world, if properly harnessed.

Also, the International Food Policy Research Institute said the value of agriculture in Nigeria at constant $2010 was about $110 billion (World Bank, 2016), projected to grow to $256 billion by 2030.

The growth is expected to come from yield expansion (about 44 per cent), area expansion (about 33 per cent) and diversification into high-value crops (about 23 per cent).

Despite the huge agricultural potential, the expert said, Nigeria, which used to be the major player in agriculture in the world, lost its place in the global community.

“In the 1960s, we had the glory that 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.

“But, the neglect of the sector saw our total export volume of 502,000 metric tons declined to 356 metric tons by 2016 (FAOSTSAT, 2016)”, he added.

To reverse the trend, Mr Oredipe called on government at all levels to overhaul their policies as they relate to agricultural development.

“To reverse this ugly trend, we must articulate a clear vision to “achieve a hunger-free Nigeria, through an agricultural sector that drives income growth, accelerates achievement of food and nutritional security, generates employment and transforms Nigeria into a leading player in global food markets.

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

“We must adopt an ambitious agricultural promotion strategy focused on a combination of transformational policy reforms and private capital investments with a promise to expand the benefits to millions of Nigerians,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo pledged the federal government’s commitment to developing agriculture, a cardinal sector for the government’s economic diversification programme.

Represented by the Minister of State for Agriculture, Mustapha Shehuri, he stressed the need to get every Nigerian to return to agriculture as one of the cardinal objectives of the government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) with emphasis on developing an export-led economy.

The VP said the diversity of engagement in the country’s agriculture from the smallholders to agribusiness with infrastructure development and promoting opportunities for increased investment is gaining high prominence.

He was confident that the summit will further assist in building the needed awareness and create more opportunities for greater development in these areas.

“Our agenda is to guarantee the vibrancy of the sector. Agriculture must be seen as a business and haven for investment. We are integrating food production, storage, food processing and industrial manufacturing to establish the linkages necessary in the agricultural commodity value chain,” the VP said.

Also, the Managing Director of Startling Bank Plc, Abubakar Suleiman, said the bank will continue to support the development of the country’s agriculture sector.

Mr Suleiman said the bank had committed over N55 billion lending support to the agriculture sector in the last seven years.

The MD said the bank’s farmers radio aimed at assisting farmers get access to agriculture information is currently broadcasting in 13 stations across the country.

The agric summit on the theme: “Agriculture: Your Piece of $1 trillion economy,” was attended by interest groups in the agriculture value chain in the country.

These included the Kebbi State governor, Atiku Bagudu, and Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, Chairman, Sterling Bank, Asue Ighodalo, and the Managing Director/ CEO, Mr Suleiman.

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