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Nigeria’s resurgent agriculture sector

By Francis Onyema
22 February 2019   |   3:32 am
The word silent in the title of this article is appropriate in view of the fact that the turnaround in the agric sector under the Buhari administration has been tremendous but without being heard by many. This is unlike the green revolution of the 70s that attracted much publicity but without really putting food on…

Lake Rice

The word silent in the title of this article is appropriate in view of the fact that the turnaround in the agric sector under the Buhari administration has been tremendous but without being heard by many.

This is unlike the green revolution of the 70s that attracted much publicity but without really putting food on anyone’s table.

Though, the agric revolution is silent but the impact is being felt in food availability even as the country now conserves huge foreign exchange.

Buhari administration’s agric revolution came at a time when this critical sector of the economy was virtually abandoned and the country depended almost 100 per cent on rice importation with its drain on foreign exchange. But the situation has changed dramatically.

Anyone who sincerely looks back at the quantum of foreign rice importation that flooded the country before 2015 and what the situation is now would certainly marvel at the huge difference.

For instance, the boom in rice production in some states of the federation is a pointer to the fact that Nigeria could be self sufficient in rice production and also be a net exporter of the commodity if only the authorities could put the right framework and mobilise the people. The failure to do the right thing has held the country down.

Agriculture, which should be the backbone of the economy, was relegated to the background in favour of crude oil export.

The result is food scarcity and massive importation of foods from abroad. But thanks to an administration that is consciously turning things around, and making rice available at affordable price.

For the first time in many years, state governments have been gingered to embark on massive rice production.

The boost in rice production in Ebonyi, Lagos/Kebbi and Anambra states, among others are cases in point. Lagos and Kebi states are working on a joint revolutionary agricultural project to produce rice, wheat, groundnuts and sorghum.

The effort of these two states has made the otherwise unaffordable rice affordable.

The rice which is branded LAKE RICE (acronym for Lagos and Kebi) now floods Lagos with rice especially during Christmas celebrations and sold for N13, 000 per bag.

Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode said Lagos and Kebbi states were entering into a partnership of food production, processing and distribution pointing out that Lagos has the required purchasing power with estimated consumption of 798, 000 metric tons of milled rice per year, which is equivalent to 15.96 million of 50 kg bags with a value of N135 billion.

Accordingly, Lagos State has reportedly installed a modern rice milling plant at Imota to process the rice. Ambode said the reality now is for Nigerians to embrace the consumption of local foods and commodities.

Again, when two years ago the Ebonyi State Government banned the sale and consumption of foreign rice in the state, it sounded like a joke. Some thought that the government was flying a kite or probably toying with an impossible idea.

Some may have even felt that the pronouncement would soon die down, for, after all, this is Nigeria where government is inconsistent and hardly enforces its laws.

Besides, moneybags could sway and buy it over. After all, this is not the first time that government would ban foreign rice and yet it is everywhere.

How could small Ebonyi State do what the Federal Government could not do? But the will makes the way. The Ebonyi authorities stamped their feet on the ground and mobilised forces to enforce the ban.

Somehow, those who had stockpiled foreign rice in Abakaliki, the state capital, with the aim of reaping a windfall at Christmas reacted like the proverbial bedbug.

An old woman poured hot water on her bedbug infested mattress and the mother bedbug told its children to remain calm because whatever is hot will certainly cool down.

The ban on foreign rice in Ebonyi came like a bombshell. With a 50 kg bag of rice selling for N20, 000 at the time, greedy rice merchants calculated the fortune they were about to reap amid the recession biting hard on Nigerians then.

Truth was that none of the expectations or thoughts of people against the ban materialised.

The Ebonyi ban quickly received a strong support from the Federal Government, which re-enforced it, even as the state Governor, David Umahi, reaffirmed his determination to enforce the ban.

The slogan on TV screens became “Eat only Nigerian rice” and it caught fire.

From all indications, Ebonyi, which was the first state in Nigeria to ban foreign rice, has succeeded in keeping the imported rice out of its markets and replaced it with the local Ebonyi paddy rice, which is affordable at N8, 000 while the processed rice sells from N14, 000 per 50kg bag.

The Anambra State Government also joined the league of rice producing states that are out to make importation of the product a thing of the past. G

Governor Willie Obiano embarked on a vibrant agricultural revolution, designed to make the state self-sufficient in food production as well as have the surplus for export.

To this end, the state has embarked on mechanised farming to produce rice in surplus. Under the venture, the state has become a major rice producer gearing to surpass 320,000 metric tonnes.

The Anambra rice brand is reportedly stone free and competes favourably with foreign brands that drained Nigeria’s foreign exchange.

As it were, this administration has brought Nigeria closer to self-sufficiency in rice production without comparison. It targets 6 million metric tons of milled rice to meet local demand.

Besides, available statistics shows that the number of rice farmers has increased from 5 million to as high as 11 million. The result is that Nigeria’s rice import bill of $1.65 billion annually has been cut by 90 per cent, the highest ever.

To support the rice revolution, as at 2017, this administration had reportedly delivered 10 million 50kg bags of fertilizer at a low price of N5, 500.

The result is that the country is saving $200 million in foreign exchange and N60 billion annually in budgetary provisions for fertilizer subsidies.

Nigeria’s fourteen moribund fertilizer blending plants have also been revitalized under the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) with a total capacity of 2.3 million metric tones of NPK fertilizer.

No doubt, the reinvigorated desire and commitment by states to produce rice among other agricultural products is a plus for the Buhari administration. This cannot be denied.

There is reason to believe that aggressive food production could lift Nigeria out of the current economic quagmire. The high cost of imported rice and other food items is a self-inflicted punishment.

There is no state in Nigeria that cannot produce rice and other food products in abundance to satisfy local production and have surplus for export.

It is noteworthy that ordinary Nigerians in the rural communities are not left out. Virtually, every family is now engaged in garri processing, which has knocked down the price of this essential staple food, thanks to the renewed impetus that should be sustained.

The tempo of this revolution should not lost be made sustainable. Nigeria, the most populous black country in the world should be able to feed its citizens.