Last year, the Federal Government closed Nigeria’s borders to the importation of some items, which rice was the most pronounced. In this piece, WALE OLAPADE looks at the effects of the closure on the core industry players and availability of rice in the last Yuletide season.
Over the past few decades, rice has become one of the leading staple foods in Nigeria, surpassing cassava in food expenditure. Throughout this period, consumption increased faster than production, resulting in a growing dependency on imports. By 2014, about half of the rice consumed in Nigeria was imported. As the most populous country in Africa,Nigeria has quickly become one of the leading importers of rice on the continent and, more recently, in the world.
Rice is grown in more than a hundred countries, with a total harvested area of approximately 158 million hectares, producing more than 700 million tons annually (470 million tons of milled rice). Nearly 640 million tons of rice is grown in Asia, representing 90 per cent of global production.
Though the yield has fluctuated substantially, in recent year, it increased through 1968-2017 period ending at 20,079 hg per ha in 2017.
Prior to introduction of the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), allocation of foreign exchange to the importation of items such as rice, wheat, milk, tomato, fish, cotton and fertilizer, among others, has contributed greatly to the depletion of the nation’s foreign reserves, especially in the face of low oil revenue, resulting from falling oil prices. This has led to rising unemployment and escalating food imports. This prompted the CBN, under the leadership of Godwin Emefiele, to shift from concentrating only on price, monetary, and financial system stability to act as a financial catalyst in specific sectors of the economy particularly agriculture; in a bid to create jobs on a mass scale, improve local food production, and conserve scarce foreign reserves.
Chief among the aims was to create economic linkages between over 600,000 smallholder farmers and reputable large-scale processors with a view to increasing agricultural output and significantly improving capacity utilisation of integrated mills.
However, the government did not leave any stone unturned to see that steps were taken to give rice farmers and other allied core stakeholders in the agriculture sector different degrees of support to enable them maximise their potential in improving yields and production quality to meet the demands of consumers, hence the closure of border was effected.
Prior to the closure of the Nigeria’s border, rice and some import items from neighbouring countries were factors militating against rice farmers and millers in Nigeria and the tendency to widen the scope of their yield and quantity were being threatened by dependence on imported items.
However, the closure by the FG attracted mixedreactions from many quarters, followed by the customs mass ambush and seizure of thousands of metric tonnes of rice smuggled by people through different means to the country.
This government restriction, which kept the borders closed, did not only skyrocket the price of rice from N15,000 to N20, 000 and N22, 000 respectively, but also, there are proofs that rice was available during the last Yuletide season in the market till date.
However, Nigerian Tribune was out to sample core stakeholders’ pulse on the rice situation in Nigeria and if the border closure met the desired expectations and whether the closure could be extended to other crops and food items.
The National President, Paddy Rice Dealers Association of Nigeria (PRIDAN), Muhammad Auwal, who spoke with Nigerian Tribune, said “last year was the first time we celebrated Christmas with Nigerian rice.”
He said border closure greatly assisted rice farmers and millers to sell their products, noting that enough jobs were also created in the rice value chain.
“Border closure helped rice producers greatly. Right now, those who produce rice are making money, those who process it have a huge market and there are a lot of job opportunities. At least a rice mill can employ up to 200 to 300 people directly and indirectly and can employ over 1000 along the value chain.”
He, however called on the government to include other crop value chains to the Anchor Borrowers Programme in order to achieve food security.
“Nigeria needs to extend the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers Program to other crops to achieve food security,” he emphasized.
The National President, Rice Millers Association of Nigeria, Peter Dama, said Nigerians had enough rice during the yuletide period.
He said those who said rice was in short supply were the smugglers making efforts to sabotage the progress made by the government on rice production.
“I will say we had enough rice this last Christmas celebration to an extent, because a lot of orders were placed and distributions were made to various parts of the country, although there have been complaints of shortage of rice.
“But from our investigation, it was those who are involved in smuggling of rice that go about telling people that there is no rice, whereas we do have enough to go round.”
On border closure, Mr Dama said Nigerians who are involved in agribusiness were delighted over the government’s decision to close the border.
“Nigerians, especially those who are in agribusiness, like rice production, poultry and other value chains are so happy over the border closure.”
In an interview with Nigerian Tribune, Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Oyo State Chapter, Olumide Ayinla, who appreciated the border closure, said the move to a large extent will position the local farmers in the scheme of things, saying it was a step in the right direction to give them an edge in the country’s agricultural sphere.
Ayinla, who saw it as a positive step towards making farmers in Nigeria, not only self-reliant, but also motivate them to be self-sufficient in improving on their yield, said “the border closure is an advantage to farmers, especially those engaging in the business of rice farming.
“The farmers appreciate the Federal Government for the border closure and has also saved Nigeria a lot of foreign exchange, as well as improved our ‘made in Nigeria market’.
Yes, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk-Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) and other government agencies are also trying in Oyo State agricultural sector. The CBN and NIRSAL want to empower the Oyo State farmer with 10,000 hectares of land for rice farmers, and 150 cooperative societies with 1000 birds per individual to start something meaningful that will go a long way to empower core stakeholders in the state agricultural sector.
Speaking on the advantage it will have on food security if government intervention is extended to other food and cash crops, Ayinla said “Yes of course, we pray and it will be good if the Federal Government can extend such empowerment to other farming crops such as cocoa, cassava, yam and other cash crops.”
Also, a female rice dealer on Ring Road area of Ibadan, who spoke with Nigerian Tribune on the condition of anonymity said that from December to date, she has sold only a bag of foreign rice compared to the number of local rice she has sold. “The problem is not that people don’t like the local rice, but the issue is with the quality of product that was bagged for consumers to buy.
“I think the timing was not right because a lot of things should have been put into consideration before embarking on the closure of the borders. It would have been more appropriate for relevant authorities to have put adequate measure place to ensure quality control to avoid the issue of fake bagging of local rice as foreign rice for consumers at the market.
She explained that if the government actually does its homework perfectly well, the border closure would be a thing that no one will raise any eyebrows at. But in a situation where the closure promotes more irregularities in areas of fake rice bagging as well as having rice with lots of stones,the gains would be lost in the challenges.
She was of the opinion that the restriction on rice should be relaxed a little pending when there would be perfect quality control measures on local rice to meet up the standard and quality of foreign rice.
“By the time we are able to get things right, I don’t think anyone will not be happy with the closure. Again, I am in support that other allied import crops and items remain in the closure list as long as things take shape in Nigeria.”
Others who clamoured for the opening of the borders to enable things normalise said that foreign rice is somewhat difficult to come by and the local rice in the market is sold at outrageous prices of between N19,000 and N20,000.
In a chat with Mr Taiwo Sunday, a research supervisor at Africa Rice, who consented to the fact that rice actually flooded the market in December, he decried some of the misnomers consumers experienced during the yuletide period, even when the commodity was available in the market.
According to Sunday “Yes there was availability of rice during the last Christmas and now people have adapted to our local rice, but the information l heard late December from some persons who went to the market to buy rice, was that our local rice was bagged as imported rice.”
He also warned “we should play wise because whatever that goes up in Nigerian market never comes down easily and I am talking about the price of these food crops (rice).”
On the continued closure of the border to fulfill the purpose of the government, Mr Sunday said “Yes this should continue because it will go a long way in creating jobs for our youths, who after obtaining their degrees have no employment placement. Also, our government should please provide machinery to meet the standard in rice production.”