Monday, 13 January 2014

Why isn’t Nigeria researching the impact of its protectionist policies for everyday foods?

rice-ibadan2By Jim Sumberg

The recent suggestion by the economist Jim O’Neill that Nigeria might be part of the next group of global economic powerhouses – one of the so-called ‘MINT’ countries, along with Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey – has engendered much comment. With an estimated 20% of the population of Africa south of the Sahara and abundant natural resources, Nigeria certainly has a lot going for it. On the human resource development side, the story is just as compelling, with the National Universities Commission listing 40 federal, 38 state and 51 private universities. If, as is so often suggested, future economic success will be all about navigating the “knowledge economy”, then Nigeria should be well served by this large and diverse university sector.

And yet, at least as far as the politics of agricultural policy in concerned, there would appear to be major gaps in the published research outputs of Nigeria’s universities. This is despite the fact that within these universities are hundreds of highly qualified economists, agricultural development professionals and political scientists.

For example, there can be little doubt about the importance of rice, chicken and tomatoes (and tomato paste) in the everyday diets of both urban and rural Nigerians. In protecting domestic producers of those commodities through import bans and tariffs, the country’s policy makers have actively bucked the trend toward more liberalised agricultural markets.

But who have been the winners and losers from these protectionist policies? What interests, actors and coalitions have supported or resisted them? What effects have they had on the agricultural sector, rural incomes, food security, rural and urban nutrition and health? How does Nigeria’s experience compare to Ghana’s, where there are fewer restrictions on imports of chicken meat, rice and tomato paste?

These are not inconsequential questions, and yet when the Web of Science is used to search for peer reviewed work on the political economy or politics of policy relating to these three commodities, it yields next to nothing. How can this be so, and what does it say about the now popular discourse promoting evidence-based policy? What is hindering Nigeria’s abundant academic talent from contributing to – or indeed leading – the now re-dynamised debates about agriculture and food policy in Africa?

If knowledge is to be a critical element of Nigeria’s emergence as an African and global economic power, then understanding and addressing the constraints to high quality research on the politics of public policy – in agriculture and beyond – must now be given the highest priority.