Nigeria’s $22b yearly food imports bill unsustainable, says minister

Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development  Heineken Lokpobiri has said Nigeria’s $22 billion food import bill is no longer sustainable.

He spoke yesterday during an inspection of  the National Agriculture Seed Council (NASC) in Sheda, Abuja.

He said the NASC had a vital role to play for the Federal Government to realise its Green Alternative Agriculture Development Roadmap.

The minister said it was imperative for the Federal Government to empower, strengthen and further equip the seed council in order to develop high quality seeds for farmers to realise the food security programme of the government.

He said NASC was already leading seed agency in the entire West African region and has contributed immensely to supporting West African nations such as Cameroon, Zambia among others.

According to him, Nigeria provides about 70 per cent of seeds used in the sub-region.

Lokpobiri, who frowned at the $22 billion annual food import bill, said: “We are at a very critical time in our nation building. The cardinal objective of this administration is to see how we can feed ourselves in the shortest possible time because we can no longer afford the import bill of $22 billion on staple foods. So the objective of this government is to be able to produce enough food for ourselves and export.

“A lot of the food we produce should be used as export to earn dollars. The foundation of all these objectives is the availability of quality seeds. The mandate of the Seed Council is so fundamental that the objective of providing enough food can never be achieved unless the Council is supported in any way possible to provide the seeds that are needed. It is also interesting to note that Nigeria provides for about 70 per cent of the seeds used in the West Africa.”

He advised the Council to create a commercial unit and increase the number of accredited seed companies from current 157 to 500 in order to device alternative source of revenue for its funding needs.

Earlier, NASC Director-General, Dr. Philip Ojo said the council was established in 1992 primarily to regulate and ensure distribution of quality seeds.

He said the Council is committed to building a market-driven seed industry for production and distribution of good seeds to farmers across the country.

However, he urged the federal government to equip the council as seed centre of excellence in Africa, adding that the structures needed renovation and more staffs.

The Director-General added that the council also needed a strong regulation in order to prosecute fake seed companies.

“Liberalisation of foundation seeds has helped develop the seed industry. The government no longer deals with foundation seeds. The private sector is encouraged in this area. So that led to the development of the seed industry from 5, 000 metric tons annually in 2007 to 122, 000 metric tons of certified seed in 2014,” Ojo stated.

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