Africa is currently a net-importing region that spends over $35 billion annually on food importation. Keen watchers of African affairs and stakeholders in the agricultural sector are divided on why the continent continues to import food when it has all it takes to really produce such food items locally and independently feed its citizens.
These debates were reignited during a press conference in Nigeria last weekend, when the nation’s Minister of State, Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri he raised an alarm over high rate of food importation in Africa.
The Minister lamented that the continent is now a dumping ground for expired and poisonous food, adding that African countries had suffered serious setbacks in the agricultural sector, while most food exporters in Europe and Asia have taken advantage of the food crisis and poverty in Africa to ship in food not healthy for human consumption.
“Africa over the years have become a dumping ground for poisonous food imported from Asia and other continents. Nigeria alone is spending $20 billion annually on food importation. The food that passes through the border between Benin Republic and Nigeria are mostly deadly food. Benin Republic people don’t even eat them but allow those commodities to come into our country,” Lokpobiri explained.
He went on to say that the frozen chicken – which, according to him, contains formalin preservation used for corpses – and the bags of rice from Asia that have been in their warehouses for more than 15 years and have lost nutritional value are shipped down to Nigerians and other African countries to eat.
“Those countries where these commodities come from are intentionally frustrating our agricultural policies, programmes and farmers. It is an act to kill our economy. We cannot allow these things to continue because is killing our people,”he added.
Senator Lokpobiri reassured Nigerians that the Buhari-led administration is poised to invest massively in the sector and depend on local food producers and processors, adding that adopting such a measure will be good for the health of Nigerians and to save the huge amount of money spent on food importation.
The Federal Government’s commitment to investing in the local agriculture sector was echoed by the presidents of two development financing institutions. Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), strongly believes that by focusing on farming, Africa has the potential to feed not only itself but the rest of the world:
“With a little investment, Africa can feed itself and it has the potential to feed the world. African leaders and their partners must all do more to shape the continent’s mighty farming potential. One day Africa could feed the world. But first it must feed itself. And smallholder farmers must be part of the solution.”
Nwanze noted that countries such as Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana, whose governments – with the support of the private sector – focused on agriculture and made big commitment to farming, have achieved tremendous success.
Speaking in a similar vein, African Development Bank (ADB) President, Mr. Akinwumi Adesina insisted recently that with 65 percent of all the arable land left in the world to feed 9 billion people by 2050, Africa must become a global powerhouse in food and agriculture:
“The Bank will accelerate support for massive agricultural transformation across Africa, while building resilience to climate change in order to fully unlock the potential of agriculture, to lower food prices, save scarce foreign exchange, increase foreign exchange earnings, strengthen macroeconomic and fiscal stability, revive rural areas and in particular, create jobs for hundreds of millions of Africans.
“We must change our approach to agriculture. Agriculture, across Africa, must now be taken as a business, to generate wealth and rapidly diversify our economies and not for managing poverty. I see in 10 years an Africa that would be able to feed itself, that is able to take advantage of all the resources it has. A more competitive Africa on the global the market,” he further assured.
Meanwhile, apologists of food importation in Africa, particularly those who continue to adamantly believe that the continent cannot feed itself, are already feasting on and regurgitating the avalanche of reasons why the food importation party in Africa must continue ad infinitum.
As usual, they are blaming it on lack of political will on the part of the government, poor governance, neglect of the sector, weak institutions, drought, floods, poverty, HIV, population explosion, lack of incentives rural farmers, the degradation of land, incessant conflicts and wars as well as neo-colonialism among many other factors.
Co-founder of AACE Foods Ndidi Nwuneli still believes that Africa should fight to end food imports from Asia and Europe because Nigeria and other countries in the continent cannot continue to depend on farmers in Europe and Asia to feed its people. She noted that tremendous business and employment opportunities that exist in the agriculture value chain including production, processing, packaging and logistics.