Shutting borders to save local rice

As the days when bags of rice practically walk in from the country’s borders with the connivance of the Customs seems to be over for good, JULIANA AGBO, writes on how the shut borders can become the catalyst for local production

BEFORE the discovery of crude oil, agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy.

It accounted for 50 per cent of the nation’s Gross Development Product (GDP), and more than 75 per cent of her export earnings, Nigeria was a major producer of Cocoa and other cash crops such as groundnut, sesame, palm oil, and rubber.

All through the first decade of her nationhood, Nigeria could feed herself, but by the 70s, Nigeria began to move down the slope from self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs to becoming import-dependent.

On average, Nigeria spends an average of US $22 billion (?7.92trn) each year on food imports. Its major food imports include wheat, sugar and fish.

Another big import, rice, accounts for about US$1.65 billion, or ?0.59trn. Most of the country’s rice is imported from Thailand and India.

Prior to now, rice was one of the country’s most imported cereals. This has led experts to predict Nigeria will be the world’s second-largest importer of rice after China in 2019.

In theory, Nigeria has the capacity to grow most or even all of its rice. There are 82 million hectares of arable land across the country; five million hectares are suitable for growing rice, but only about 3.2 million hectares are being used for growing rice. Collectively, these produce 3.7 metric tons per year and that rice meets about 50% of domestic rice demand.

Following the concern raised by President Muhammadu Buhari and other stakeholders concerning the importation of rice into the country, on August 2019, the joint security operatives led by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) in collaboration with the Armed Forces of Nigeria, as well as the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), launched an intelligence-gathering operation by conducting a joint border security exercise, code-named “EX-SWIFT RESPONSE”.

The Comptroller General of NCS, Colonel Hameed Ali (retd), in response to the concerns raised over the closure of the border, said the borders will remain closed to stop the conduit of illicit drugs and the proliferation of small arms.

The Nation gathered that a bag of local rice now sells for N18, 000 and N24, 000 at the market following the border closure. The foreign rice sells for N25, 000.

Taking advantage of border closure

The National Coordinator, Nigeria Farmers Group and Cooperative Society (NFGCS), Mr Retson Tedheke, told The Nation during a team visit to the integrated farm in Gaate Village, Kokona Local Government Area of Nasarawa State that more borders need to be closed, from Benin to Cameroon and from Niger to Chad, for Nigeria to grow.

Tedheke said the ban on importation of rice is a catalyst capable of triggering a massive industrial revolution that is driven by agriculture and sustained by rice.

He said the country must get to that point where the border must be closed against the importation of rice, maize, and petroleum products heading out of the country.

The National Coordinator who explained that when he left the Niger-Delta for Abuja, he had no idea he was going to become a large scale farmer, said, in 2017, he, along with several others, and an entire community, formed a cooperative that enables them to work a huge chunk of land simply by putting their heads together.

He said the farm, which seeks to expand its operations is leveraging on the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) Credit Risk Guarantee (CRG).

He added that the integrated farm is into rice production, oil processing, ranching, poultry farming and milk production that has over 10,000 members across the country with over 300 local employees during the farming season and over 500 at harvest time.

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“We are also building a mini health care centre that can take care of about 300 to 500 people”, he said.

Production capacity

On the current production capacity, the Farm Manager, NFGCS, Peter Ogbeide said the farm cultivates about 150 hectares for the rice farm which they are hoping to increase by 2020.

Furthermore, Mr Tedheke said with the successful completion of the rice mill, the integrated farm is producing about a thousand bags in a month.

According to him, “By November 2019 the group’s output will be up to 25,000 bags, and 100,000 bags within the first quarter of 2020.

He said: “95 per cent of Nigerians eat rice every day. Look at what customs has done in the last couple of days, even if the Nigerian farmers are not benefiting and custom is bringing in revenue of N10 billion every day, do you know what that means? It means that every 10 days customs can be putting about 300 billion Naira on the table and every month, customs can be putting trillions of Naira on the ground and that will generate a lot for the country yearly.

“We are going to be a cooperative company that will be able to deliver 50,000 bags of rice into the Nigerian market every month. With the kind of training our staff has, they have no issues in computing their farm activities.

Why border closure policy is necessary

The Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Kia Kia Bits Limited, Mr Olajide Abiola, noted that Nigeria for long has been a dumping ground for imported products, especially through neighbouring countries, adding that the country loses a lot of revenue in the form of taxes and import duties.

According to him, “Most of these duties are paid to the customs and as revenue through the ports of entry of the country which they came, and secondly, it also discourages local production and investments, because smugglers do not pay anything in bringing these things into the country, they have a natural competitive advantage over indigenous farmers and indigenous producers of these commodities that we have local capacity to actually produce and also significantly drive down the price through economy of scales.”

Abiola who said the border closure would help stimulate local production and empower Nigerian farmers in many ways said Kia-Kia Bits as a licensed lender empowered to lend would leverage on it to empower more farmers.

However, the farm manager, NFGCS, Peter Ogbeide while explaining that the border closure would leave most Nigerians with no choice than to go into rice farming, said the country might not have the quantity of rice to satisfy local demand immediately, but it will be an eye-opener for Nigerians to venture into rice business.

“So even if you are a rice farmer, and you cannot process, you can give it out to who can process it because is a value chain”, he said.

Why Nigerians should boost local production capacity

On boosting local production capacity, Tedheke said the production of local rice needs more attention as it has no difference with foreign rice.

He said: “Local rice is more nutritious, safer and more body friendly. But, Nigerians are in love with foreign contents, Even when things come from one of the poorest countries in the world, they respect it, we need to understand as a people that our insatiable demand for foreign content is one of the reasons why unemployment is so high in this country. Our demand is the reason our people are suffering, and that is why people are not farming locally.’’

He continued: ” Now, we are importing Garri from Togo, We are a nation that always expects a miracle from things we can do because of religion. Americans love Nigerians because we always import things from them, all we do is to eat without developing the place that can get us food.

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“The Lebanese are the ones coming to develop our agriculture for us, they take our raw materials, take ginger to China, refine it and bring it back for us to take as ginger tea, they also take our yam, process it and return it to us as Poundo yam. So what we have done is that our eating culture is now being monetized by the Chinese. The mistake we made in crude oil when Nigeria produced about two million barrels of crude a day, is the mistake that is already taking place in agriculture.‘’

He said the Chinese and Japanese are already here to take over our agriculture. Adding that if we are not careful and think about Nigeria first, we are going to get that point that the Chinese will come here and become our landlords and the next thing we will do is to begin to rant on social media which won’t take us anywhere.

‘’Every Nigerian must understand that change begins with him or her first and that the nation that prays, fails, and a nation that farms, succeed.

“Every single kobo that has been invested in this project has come from crowdfunding and loans from organizations like Kia Kia. The federal, state and local government have not contributed or supported this project financially. But the federal government has provided us with machines at subsidised rates. So, the federal government warehouse in Keffi has been open to this cooperative”, he averred.

The need for the government’s investment in rice farming

Tedheke further reiterated the need for the government to deploy resources to boost production capacity in the country.

According to him, “If Nigeria can cultivate 30 million hectares of rice, in a year, and with average five tons per hectare, we will have 30 million hectares multiplied by five, you have 150 million tons of paddy rice, if you such amount and discount those at about 50 per cent, you are going to be having 75 million tons of rice, the point is that we have the capacity of being food sufficient.

“I don’t think the whole of Nigeria has up to 200 thousand tractors, so we need to invest heavily in the deployment of machinery across the country for all of the rice beds for people to be interested in farming’’.

However, Mr Ogbeide also decried that research institutes are not doing enough to support agricultural growth in the nation.

“If you look at countries that are doing well is because their research institutes are doing well in producing hybrids seedlings that can give a good yield.

“Closing of the border is a good thing for Nigeria, is for a while, is because we are new to it that people are concerned, we will be pushed to improve because when we have so much demand, we have to push and increase our capacity of producing rice, between 2015 to now, rice production has increased, why is it that local farmers are crying, is because of importation, the cost of production of local rice caused the high cost of rice in the market. If farmers are provided with the amenities to produce rice, we will not be facing these challenges now.

“In China, 90% of what they need for their production, the government provides it for them, even if they need to get a loan for the implement, the government does that, but ours is different here in Nigeria,” he said.

Challenges

On the challenges militating against rice production in the country, Mr Tedheke noted that the country must also fight against the external forces that are militating against its local farmers and producers, said there should be a synergy between the state, local and the federal government when it comes to harmonising relationships, the differences and the area of challenges that are being faced across these levels of government.

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While reiterating the need for investments in machineries, infrastructure, agro-processing, research, and in every sector of the economy that is capable of supporting a massive revolution in agriculture, he said: “We have made progress but we are not there yet, we have the potential and the capacity to become food sufficient within the next decade. 84 million arable hectares of farmland is no joke. If you utilise 50 per cent of these arable farmlands, you will provide enough for your people, then you begin to preach free trade, why, because if as we speak, Nigeria is producing 10 tons of finished rice every month, then we will now begin to embrace free trade in rice, we will now say, when it comes to the rice industry Nigeria wants to become a liberal economy.”

Inflation surges after war against food smuggling

THE inflation rate went up to 11.2 per cent in September after falling to a 3 1/2-year low in the preceding month, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has said.

The NBS blamed this on increase in food prices. Food prices went up after the partial closure of the country’s borders with the Benin Republic to curb rice smuggling.

Food-price growth accelerated for the first time in four months rising 1.3 per cent from August. The borders were closed in late August.

The President Muhammadu Buhari administration further tighten the screws on Monday by banning trade across all land borders to force neighbouring Benin and Niger to halt food smuggling into the country.

Food prices rose at the fastest pace in four month in September

“The key factor for prices has been the partial closure of the land border with our neighbors,” said Omotola Abimbola, an analyst with Chapel Hill Denham Securities Ltd. “We have stable fuel and energy prices, and we are in the harvest season. Inflation should be lower.”

With a population barely 5 per cent of Nigeria’s, Benin has turned into the world’s No. 2 exporter of rice while Nigeria is expected to be the biggest buyer of the grain this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“At some point, it has to be Nigeria first — we have to protect our own industries,” Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed said on Monday.

The policy has hurt food sellers in the capital, Abuja, who say Nigerians prefer imported food items because they’re more affordable. Prices of imported products such as rice, palm oil and frozen chicken have gone up by more than 50%, they say.

“I can already see this border closing affecting us terribly, especially with December around the corner,” said Grace Auta, 45, who sells goods at a food stand in the bustling Wuse market in Abuja. An increase in wholesale prices forced her to more than double the price of a 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag of rice.

“Already we are seeing drop in sales; we don’t have enough money to take in products as we normally would,” said Auta.

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