rice importation

There were fears last August when the Federal Government announced the closure of borders in a bid to stem the influx of light arms, food products, including rice and poultry.

This is also with a view to facilitating the growth of local investment in rice production as well as check consumption of the unhealthy commodity by the citizenry.

The fears were informed by the fact that the yuletide season was fast approaching and rice and poultry products, which form the main staples of households during this season, were banned from coming into the country through the borders.

Several stakeholders, rice and poultry farmers, had tried to allay the fears of consumers over the border closure, assuring that modalities were being put in place to ensure adequate supply of locally produced rice and poultry products.

The President of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Aminu Goronyo, among other stakeholders, had informed consumers that, “we have a bumper harvest that we never had before. We have never had the type of bumper harvests that we recorded this year,” assuring that the commodity would be available.

Despite these assurances, the fears persisted but to the amazement and admiration of many, the food items – locally produced rice and poultry products – were in abundant supply across the country throughout the festive season up to the present, a proof that the nation’s rice and poultry farmers can be relied upon to meet and even exceed local demands. The feat is also another proof that the government policy to shut the borders and encourage the country’s rice and poultry farmers to embark on big time investments in their businesses paid off.

Stakeholders, therefore, applaud the border closure policy with a number of them calling for its sustenance. They, in addition, commend various other government interventions in different value chains in the agricultural sector through the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN)’s Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), NIRSAL, among others.

Commending government’s policies geared towards enhancing agricultural productivity, especially in the areas of rice and poultry products, and ensuring food security, the Lagos State chapter Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Otunba Femi Oke, said, “about two, three months ago, before the Christmas, there were agitations from various people that there might not be sufficient rice for the celebrations being one of our staple foods. An average home in Nigeria takes rice everyday and we’ve seen what happened.

“Many private investors have ventured into this and we are now getting more sufficient in rice. The present government deserves kudos for its achievements in this regard. The government has achieved in that sector, I can tell you that. There’s a lot that government has achieved in the area of agriculture, especially rice, and this has reduced our forex expenditure. We are not spending much money on importation of rice anymore. With this level of success, I think the borders should remain closed. Ive heard the report of the meeting Mr. President held in UK that the borders will still remain closed, which we are in support of.”

The National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Ibrahim Kabiru, speaking to Daily Sun on the feat achieved by rice farmers in ensuring availability of the commodity even after the closure of land borders, stated that, “the country is getting a lot more than it bargained for in terms of rice production. It’s possible to be self-sufficient in rice provided that this tempo continues. Our people should be encouraged to produce more and then the enabling environment to for production and off-take and good value should be created. Our farmers are ready to produce as much as the country can off-take at a good price. We believe it is possible to have self-sufficiency and even be able to export rice. We have the land and all the possibilities are there.”

On the continued closure of the land borders as a means of sustaining the achievements recorded so far in rice production, Kabiru is of the opinion that it should be “a temporary measure,” his reason being that Nigeria has to abide by various inter-regional agreements it is signatory to.

He explained that, “if we are able to produce more rice than we can consume, we need to be able to sell it some how. If the borders remain closed, are we going to be able to do it? So the border closure thing is a temporary measure. At some point, when our neighbours who are doing things inimical to our progress begin to do what is right, the borders will be opened. We signed up to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) so how can it be done when our borders are closed? The borders will be opened but it will be at the right time when everybody begins to act responsibly.”

A stakeholder in the rice sub-sector and General Manager, Project, Elephant Group, Dr. Oluwarotimi Fashola, who has been full of accolades for government over the border closure and a great advocate of the borders remaining closed, submitted that government “did extremely well” and therefore “cannot afford to relax.”

Fashola who expressed fears that foreign rice is beginning to trickle in again, harped on the need “to sustain the tempo so that it’s not just seen as a one-off kind of thing.” He said the closure “encouraged a lot of processors, farmers and it was able to curb smuggling and plug a lot of loopholes through which forex was going out. So I seriously advocate that the borders should remain closed.”

On government interventions that have boosted the agriculture sector and will move it to its pride of place in the economy if sustained, including the ABP, NIRSAL, the AFAN National President, Kabiru, submitted that, “government is intervening in many areas through the CBN ABP but we are yet to attain food security. We are working towards it very fast. Food security will mean that as you wake up today you are able to eat what you want, at the right time, in the right quantity with requisite nutritious value. We are doing everything possible to take us there and we are happy that government is focused in encouraging people to do that.”

By way of advise, he warned against allowing “anyone to import poultry products into the country because we can produce what we need here and there are many investors in the poultry industry. When I was the poultry farmers president, we were working with an asset base of $2 billion and I believe this can be enhanced if there is an ABP scheme intervening to encourage people to come in and do it very well. More efforts should be put in to make us self-sufficient in poultry.”

For Fashola, government interventions should be done in a sustainable manner taking one crop at a time to ensure adequate results are achieved. According to him, “intervention is already available for cassava as we have for rice. If we can have interventions and policies that will encourage the use of starch and other derivatives of cassava we produce here, that will be nice.

“We’ll keep improving it until we get to a stage where everybody will smile at the outcome. For instance, the intervention in paddy aggregation was improved from one year to two years. We had Paddy Aggregation Scheme 1, an Anchor Borrowers Programme, then Scheme 2, which is an improvement on Scheme 1. Improvements are coming into it as people are bringing more suggestions. The private sector can be involved now. You know, when the private sector is involved it can be more efficient. There’s need to encourage more private sector investors to be part of the ABP as off-takers.”

The Lagos State chapter Chairman of AFAN, Otunba Oke, while speaking on government interventions in other crops, noted that government is now taking care of many commodities. He said, “government is now trying to take the bull by the horn. Government is doing a lot in the area of coffee. They have done well in the area of rice and also cassava. It’s a gradual process. Presently, we have over 55 commodities that make up AFAN and government is now taking cognisance of each of these commodities. For instance, recently, government, through the ABP, gave the cassava sub-sector several inputs like fertiliser and NIRSAL is now giving support in the area of financial assistance. So we were there about three days ago to inaugurate the ABP under the cassava value chain.

“Also recently, we heard from the Minister of State for Agriculture that all the six geo-political zones of the country have to have areas they will call agroindustrial parks where government will establish conducive environment for agro-business. There will be machineries there and so many other facilities and you can even take your products there for branding. So government is taking its own steps and those of us that are stakeholders in the agric sector are happy about it.”

Oke was thrilled by level of success recorded in the poultry sector through the intervention of ABP as well as the impact of the border closure. He stated that, “most of our poultry farmers got a lot of patronage last year. About a week ago, I received a call from some big hotels demanding for us to supply them chickens. I told them that many of our farms don’t process and I asked them if they were ready to take life chickens and they said no. So they have agreed to support us with processing machines. They have agreed that AFAN should sit down with their consultants and identify a minimum of four poultry farms to be assisted so that they will be the major suppliers of those big hotels.”

He informed that, “formerly, they never used to patronise us; even when we approached them to buy from us, they would tell us they were importing their own but now they are calling us to supply to them. Now that they know the challenges facing our poultry farmers, they are willing to collaborate with them in establishing processing facilities to facilitate the processing of poultry products. So we are ready to give them four poultry farms that are capable of meeting their demands.”

Over all, majority of stakeholders are agreed that for these achievements to be sustained the policies that have encouraged them should be kept in place. For some, though, border closure should not exceed 12 to 18 months.

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