Chinyere Anyanwu, [email protected]
The closure of Nigeria’s land borders with neighbouring – Benin Republic, Niger and Cameroon – since August 20, this year to check smuggling of rice, poultry products, among other food products, and illegal movement of light arms, was expected to boost local food production to bridge the gap created by the Federal Government policy
But rather than see more food stuff available in the market, the country has been witnessing increasing scarcity and price spikes on local rice and poultry products which are among the major food items being smuggled into the country. Local rice farmers and poultry producers blame the situation on the activities of greedy and selfish marketers who are seizing the opportunity of the border closure to hoard local rice and make brisk businesses. They accused them of creating artificial scarcity, by releasing the product piecemeal to gain from hiking the price.
Against the backdrop of this official policy, a 50kg bag of local rice that was sold for between N12,500 and N13,000, now sells for between N24,000 and N27,000 in the last few weeks. This, however, is contrary to the assurances given by the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) last month, (October) that “a 50kg bag of local rice will sell for N9,000 in three weeks’ time,” following the bumper harvest the sector has recorded this year.
President of the association, Aminu Goronyo, had promised that, “Nigerians will continue to get this commodity at affordable prices and it will be available. We hope that Nigerians will buy a 50kg milled rice at between N9,000 and N10,000.”
Despite his confident declaration 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,” realities on ground show that rice-loving Nigerians are still grappling with acute scarcity of the product with its attendant exorbitant price, ahead of the forthcoming festive season.
Explaining why Nigerian farmers, especially rice producers, have not been able to flood the market with the product, the National President of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Ibrahim Kabiru, said the farmers are working hard to change the current narative. He urged Nigerians to be patient with them as they identify with the pains of the people and are making efforts to bring solution to the situation.
According to him, “farmers are taking up rice cultivation and more are going into it but it takes time for the produce to be in the market. Rice does not grow in a day; it takes time. We must not think that rice will flood the markets without cultivating it. So we will be patient because farmers are working very hard to ensure we are self-sufficient in rice.”
For the Lagos State chapter Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Otunba Femi Oke, “Rome was not built in a day” so am assuring that “within the shortest time possible our local rice is going to flood the market.”
Otunba Oke, who said the government could have alerted farmers to produce more before the closure, noted that, “after the border closure, many farmers have decided to invest in rice milling and poultry having seen the importance of such investment. Some private organisations are now going into rice cultivation. We might still have shortage, there is no doubt about that. Just like when SIM cards came newly to the country, they were very expensive and not everybody could afford it but after a while, the price came down and you can access SIM card now for less than N500 so we are entreating our people to be patient.”
He further said, “about 47 industries have come on board in the rice processing sector in some eastern and northern states and their capacities are enormous. For instance, AFAN as a body has acquired over 150 acres of land in Epe to plant rice and see if we can meet the one in Imota Rice Mill which is about to be commissioned then we can fill the gap.’
“Our local rice, as they call it, is not local. It is well polished and does not have stones like before but we will still talk to our people; those who re-bag our local rice. We have seen some video clips where they are re-bagging our local rice with foreign rice bags because our people are so fond of foreign rice. Much of the rice we are producing now are of good quality because we have advanced.
“We can assure you that within the shortest possible time we are going to get more rice into the market. And more collaborations can still go on like Lagos and Kebbi states with other states going into such collaborations.”
Oke also expressed pleasure at government’s intervention in various agriculture value chains, including poultry, urging the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which introduced NIRSAL that enables farmers to access fund at 5 per cent interest rate to do more.