Border closure: Onion going the way of rice
Regardless of whatever benefits the Federal Government claims the land borders closure is accruing to farmers, observations have shown that the policy has also exposed the country’s inadequacies in the area of food production.
As it is in the case of rice, acute shortage of onion is hitting the market, which has inadvertently led to high cost of the produce across the country, as the wide gap between production and consumption is filled with imports.
Despite its position as the second largest onion producer in Africa after Egypt, the country has failed to maximise the opportunity the industry offers, due to challenges.
The Secretary of the Onion Producers and Marketers Association of Nigeria, Aliyu Isah Maitasamu, confirmed that the country could generate $420m from exporting onions, if the issue of poor preservation challenge is properly addressed.
Currently, Nigeria relies solely on importation of onion, importing as high as 1.1m Metric Tonnes (mt) yearly to meet the high demand.
It was learnt that the country requires 2.5 million mt of the produce yearly, but only producing 1.4 million mt, leaving a deficit gap of 1.1 million tonnes, which are brought in from neighbouring countries.
But since the closure of the borders, importation of the produce, majorly through the land borders has ceased, and the country has been forced to manage the little cultivated locally.
As expected, the price of onion has gone the way of other common food items consumed by Nigerians, which have hit the roof. The Guardian learnt the price has gone up by 65 per cent, as demand rises by the day.
Though investigations showed that the closure is now forcing farmers, especially onion farmers, to produce enough for local consumption, but currently, the situation has left many people questioning the wisdom in shutting the borders, when the country has not been able to produce enough to meet local demand.
Last month, at a meeting in Sokoto, the President, Regional Observatory of the Onion Sector in West and Central Africa, Mustapha Kahdiri, described the border closure as a great booster to onion farmers, as it would help the country become self-sufficient in terms of agricultural produce, especially onions. He however, said the fact couldn’t be ruled out that the decision is biting hard on onion farmers and marketers across African countries.
A market survey carried out by The Guardian revealed that the produce is actually going beyond the reach of the masses. For instance, in Oshodi Market, three pieces of onion was sold for N200, as against the 10 pieces sold at the same amount before the border closure.
At Cele Market, it was observed that the bulk of onions in the market are tiny. A lady, Ngozi Agah, who bought from the market did not only complain about the size, she also complained that the ones she bought started rotting after three days.
One of the dealers in Mile 12 Market, Yakubu Abu, told The Guardian that the closure has adversely affected the business, as goods from neighbouring countries like Niger, which have been complementing what is produced locally have ceased coming into the country.
Abu said before the border closure, the highest price for a bag of onion was between N13, 000 to N15, 000. But currently, he buys the same bag for N31, 000, noting that he hardly make profit after selling his stock.
An onion farmer in Kebbi State, Badaru Ahmed, who confirmed the development, said when government is making such a policy, proper arrangements should be made to bridge the deficit gap, which has led to current price increase.
Ahmed said government should also ensure that the benefits of the policy go directly to the farmers.
Another development The Guardian learnt might have contributed to scarcity of the commodity is the reported cases of two strange diseases affecting onion farms and storage facilities in Kebbi State.
Chairman, National Association of Onions Farmers in the state, Bello Uba said over N1b worth of onions have been lost, as over 20,000 farmers were affected.
“We have lost over N1b to two strange and unknown diseases that emerged and affected the seeds we used, as well as the shells of the already ripened onions that we put in our local storage facilities.
“We have never witnessed such diseases in decades, as no fewer than 20,000 farmers are now affected by the bizarre scourge,” he said.
According to him, the farmers believe that the two diseases, called Zazzalau and Raba, have no remedy for now.
The chairman, however, said the association had not reported the outbreak to relevant government agencies for intervention, but would do so immediately.