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Nigeria’s rice booms as industry players advocate extension of policies

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
24 January 2020   |   4:15 am
Nigerian farmers and processors as well as researchers have, once again, presented arguments and proofs for continuation of the integrated agro-economic policies of closing the land borders, anchor borrowers’ scheme...

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Nigerian farmers and processors as well as researchers have, once again, presented arguments and proofs for continuation of the integrated agro-economic policies of closing the land borders, anchor borrowers’ scheme, import substitution industrialisation and export promotion, anchoring their case on availability of local rice.

Despite activities of unrelenting smugglers, made-in-Nigeria rice has, it appears, taken the centre stage as dealers and retailers supply rice to marketplaces in Nigerian major cities and call for escalation of the working policies.

Checks in Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja and Kano indicated that, after all, the pains associated with unannounced closure of land borders are not in vain.

Every developed country or continent, at one point or the other, used economic protectionism as a tool to stabilise its agro-economy, agro-allied industries and prevent pre-mature or cut-throat competition and dumping.

A very recent model of economic protectionism is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union. The union imposes heavy tariff rates on some agricultural products in an attempt to protect farmers of its member countries from imported agricultural products.

Since the 1990s and at the turn of the new millennium, China had been protecting its farmers and agro-allied industries through its various anti-dumping policies.

“China has made considerable progress in protecting its domestic industries through antidumping, anti-subsidy and safeguard mechanisms invoked under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and in accordance with the laws of the nation,” Wang Qinhua, who was the president of the Bureau for the Investigation of Unfair Trading, had noted in 2002.

The United States of America protects its economy, and by extension farmers, using trade-restricting polices, including tariffs, quotas and various government approvals as means of economic protectionism as evidence in its strained relationship with China.

Based on the foregoing, a former minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr Charles Ugwuh, who is also a rice processor in Ebonyi and Enugu states, disclosed to The Guardian that the border closure and zero-tolerance to agricultural importation and smuggling are the best policies of the current administration and the government should not shoot itself in the feet by reversing a working formula.

Ugwuh said, “Can Nigeria produce rice? Do we want to produce rice? If the answer is yes, what is stopping us from producing rice? What is stopping us is unfair competition. People are dumping rice on us, weakening our resources to grow rice and making it uneconomical for us to grow rice.

“If you these, you stop that dumping, you close the borders, and stop the dumping whether it is rice, or yam, or tomatoes. Let us close our borders; not just against rice.

“For example, why cannot we grow chickens? Why do we import chickens from Ireland into Nigeria when we have tropical climate in which we can grow chickens?
We have this mentality of stupidity that sits down, does nothing, and eats what somebody else produces.

“So, my answer is yes. The borders should remain closed and Nigerians should go for more investments.”

He argued that since the time the borders were closed rice processing and investments have rapidly gone up in Kano, Kebbi, Niger, Nasarawa, and Ebonyi states, among others, saying, “people are now trying to make investment in rice infrastructure. Come to Imo State, we are planting beside Imo rivers. Nigerians are making investments, but if you do not close the borders, you are faced with unfair competition.”

Ugwuh said “It is suicidal for anybody to make investments in those areas and leave the borders open,” concluding that, “Yes, we should close the borders. It is necessary in view of the unfair competition.”

Alhaji Abdulahi Bala Yusuf, chairman of Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) in Kogi State, said the Federal Government’s policy on closure of borders against agricultural products should have come earlier, saying people had starting returning to rice production.

Reacting to poor quality and presence of stones in some brands of local rice, Bala said commercial rice processing in Nigeria is just emerging, and there is enough room for improvement.

“It is a gradual process, and we are growing rapidly. The government should keep the border closed because many farmers have returned to farms. Rice farmers are one of the richest people in Nigeria now. They should be encouraged,” he added.

On quality, the processor said the government should facilitate destoning machines to cooperatives of farmers re-payable for a period of about two years. This, he explained, would boost the quality and eliminate stones.

Presence of stone, he admitted, is about the only challenge retarding the rice processing sector.

He called on other processors to improve on the quality of their brands by all means to encourage consumers to patronise local rice.

“Some processors do not use destoning machines. We appeal to the Federal Government and states to intervene by giving processors destoning machines in any form,” he said.

Regional Coordinator of Africa Rice Centre, IITA, Ibadan, Dr Francis Nwilene, said agro-economic protectionism is desirable as long as it would help deepen crop production, industrial growth and development, stimulation of employment generation and farmers’ prosperity while guaranteeing food security.

Rice genetic improvement, breeding and propagation are main areas the government and international development agencies should also boost to really revolutionise the economy of rice production.

Planting materials resources that could escalate production per hectare to eight-ten tonnes per hectare have been developed, and the government should really beam its searchlight on the activities of seed companies adulterating grains as seed and setting the clock backward on rice production.

“If Nigeria could feed itself with almost completely with rice grown in Nigeria, then the Central Bank of Nigeria’s policy on agriculture is working and the closure of the border should continue to firmly emplace the integration of crop production and value chain development for local consumption,” Dr Nwilene said.

A major rice dealer at Daleko marketplace in Lagos, Mrs Jumoke Oshinfowokan, affirmed that enough local rice was available in the market during the yuletide, indicating that farmers produced almost enough rice for the season.

She said price of local rice was high and some products were of low quality during the yuletide, fraught with stones and odour, but a good number of processors also supplied high quality rice.

Mrs Oshinfowokan, however, lamented that it appeared that the government had relaxed its policy on zero-tolerance for smuggling of rice because some bags of foreign rice could be spotted in other marketplaces.

She disclosed that their market leader would not allow foreign rice to be sold in the marketplace, saying that all the available brands of rice in the market were made in Nigeria.

“The government should ensure quality control on all branded and packaged rice to ensure consumer’s confidence. The government should not relax its border policy. But we want price of local products to become cheaper so that many people can buy rice,” she said.

Another seller in the marketplace, Mrs Olasumbo Akinyoola, said “Nigeria’s rice is available but more expensive than when the imported one was available.”

She expressed dissatisfaction over the average price of about N17,000 per bag of the rice, arguing that is should be cheaper. She advocated continued closure of the border, improvement on the quality of made-in-Nigeria rice and cheaper prices of the products.

“There is quick delivery of local rice now after the festive period,” she acknowledged.

Executive Secretary, Plantation Owners Forum of Nigeria (POFON), Mr Fatai Afolabi, said as much as he had reservations about closing the borders against legitimate trans-border business persons, if Nigeria was able to feed itself with enough rice during the last Christmas period (a period with usually surging demand for the product), he would recommend the continuity of the policy that heralded the closure.

Part of the reservation is that the Nigeria Customs Service should have manned the border effectively while the country observes the ECOWAS protocols on movement of humans and goods, because Nigeria also produces things being exported to the neighbouring countries.

He also called for food basket diversification away from rice, saying there are many better alternative staples than rice.

Chairman of the All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN) and chairman of Rice Committee of the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme in Oyo State, Mr Olumide Ayinla, while explaining the impact of the scheme and the border policy, said farmers are happy with the policy, and their response to the challenge of providing Nigerians with rice has been commendable given that locally produced and processed rice is still predominantly available for Nigerians.

He too admitted processing of rice should be improved on, as polishing, destoning and uniformity of the products are still defective.

The Anchor Borrowers’ scheme and NIRSAL have mandated Oyo State farmers to cultivate 10,000 hectares of rice farm in the coming rainy season farming, Ayinla disclosed, adding that 1800 farmers in AFAN had been screened to participate in the scheme.

Overall, no fewer than 2,500 farmers would be required to cultivate the number of hectares of rice farmland in Oyo State alone, apart from associated labour and service providers such as input suppliers, transporters, millers and marketers.

However, President of the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Mr Ibrahim Ezekiel Mam, said the closure of boarders should not be more than 12 months, saying, “If it exceeds 12 months, the negative results will outweigh the benefits.”
Talking on the likely negative effects, Mam said, “When people are in desperation, they can do all manners of things. People will move into this country and start to commit atrocities, breaking into houses, and doing street robberies, because at times, people are pushed either to die or survive.”

He recommended that “Nigeria should develop a policy that carries their local production, help them to be transparent in relating with us and not involving a third party. So, those that are importing should be from their source, not from the third party. And we can do that by involving the border communities as a monitoring agents.”

In a nutshell, stakeholders such as Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) and Rice Millers Association of Nigeria (RIMAN) have all called for continuation and extension of the policy and resource mobilisation for other crops for food security, among other benefits.

Also included in the calls for continuity are research institutes, other commodity producers, marketers and poultry producers.