It is now an open secret that President Muhammadu Buhari has achieved a laudable and indelible mark in ensuring food security and self-sufficiency in local food production through his well-thought-out policy of Anchor Borrower’a Programme (ABP) implemented by the Central Bank of Nigeria, under the leadership of Mr. Godwin Emefiele.
As the unprecedented horror of COVID-19 pandemic permeated all countries of the world, it left behind not only mass fatalities but also hunger for those lucky to survive it. Thankfully, courtesy of President Buhari’s foresight and political will, Nigeria and Nigerians were saved from that calamity of hunger and starvation, as Nigerian farmers produced the food we ate when the entire world was in total lockdown occasioned by COVID-19.
In May this year, the World Bank’s managing director for development, Mari Pangestu, said developing countries in the world were facing food insecurity and malnutrition due to the coronavirus pandemic, a drop in foreign exchange earnings, export restrictions and the breakdown of supply chains, among others.
The senior World Bank official, in remarks to an online meeting of agriculture ministers from the Group of 20 major economies, said this underscored the need for global cooperation to avert food crises in the most vulnerable countries.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already triggered the deepest recession since the 1930s, according to experts. In addition to the pandemic, the worst locust plague in decades is decimating millions of hectares of crops across parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.
Nigeria is lucky because, despite the closure of borders as a way of tackling the pandemic, its citizens didn’t starve. There was no hunger, and its local farmers across the country are smiling to the bank, all courtesy of Buhari’s agricultural revolution.
It is an open secrets that, in the last five years, Buhari led a revolution that saw millions of Nigerians being salvaged from the pangs of poverty and squalor. These Nigerians are farmers: the hitherto forgotten and silent majority of our 200 million population.
Buhari’s rice revolution succeeded not because his predecessors had not tried, there are various agricultural policies over the years, all aimed at helping the Nigerian farmer. There were Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) and the Agricultural Implements and Mechanisation Services (AIMS), among others. They all failed to achieve their mandates partly because they were elite-centric. They mostly excluded the real farmers, who are in rural areas.
Official statistics show that the ABP has added six million metric tonnes to rice supply in the country annually and created nearly six million direct jobs in a year. Another data from rice producers reveals that about two million direct jobs are created every cropping season. And Nigeria has three cropping seasons in a year, all of them fully funded by the CBN. These jobs are restricted to only the production value chain of rice, and not the millions of other jobs created through the rice ecosystem.
Buhari’s ABP has so far saved Nigeria a whopping N369 billion per annum, while the country consumes N1.5 billion worth of rice every day. This breakthrough has saved the country the challenge of sourcing forex or devaluing our currency to finance this monstrous import wage bill.
This singular policy of the government has transformed peasant farmers to millionaires, burnished our image internationally, save the country the challenges of securing foreign exchange to service multi-billion dollar rice import bills, and ensured food security in the country, among others.
Notwithstanding these laudable efforts, there is no gainsaying the fact that some forces are not happy with the ongoing rice revolution being undertaken by Buhari in the last couple of years.
It is also not a secret that these unpatriotic forces are not happy with the Buhari administration’s policy of banning rice import into the country and they are leaving no stone unturned to sabotage it and achieve their selfish interests. They are denied the huge billions they guzzle by defrauding Nigerians and Nigeria.
These saboteurs are hiding behind the cost of rice to mount pressure on government to allow them resume import of rice into the country. In April this year, the minister of agriculture and rural development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, was reported saying that “the Presidency was frowning at indiscriminate hike in the cost of local rice, saying it was dishonesty on the part of the dealers and unfair to consumers.”
In the same vein, Nanono declared that the Buhari administration was under pressure to give waivers on rice importation, if that will be the only way for prices of local rice to be reviewed downward.
The truth is that some people across the country have created a cabal whose only stock in trade is to create price hike of rice, thereby forcing government to open the borders for them to resume their ‘business as usual.’
These unscrupulous elements go to rice farms and buy up the paddy at inflated prices and hoard it, instead of processing it, simply to hike the prices. Instead of processing the paddy in their factories, they now acquire warehouses and hoard it. All this, to blackmail the President into allowing them to resume their unpatriotic imports of rice, thereby making our farmers and other Nigerians involved in the rice ecosystem jobless.
For instance, after failing to get waivers to import brown rice, the prices of paddy was jerked up from N120,000 per tonne to N175,000 per tonne. This is simply to deepen the narrative that there is no paddy to process and the cost of rice will skyrocket.
Contrary to their false narratives that the price of rice is high because there was not enough paddy to process, the truth is that, despite the massive flood that destroyed rice farms in the 2020 wet season, farmers have produced enough paddy to feed the existing mills. The annual projection for 2020 is producing between 15 and 17 million metric tonnes of paddy. Against all odds, our farmers were able to produce between 12 and 13 million metric tonnes, which is enough to provide Nigeria’s annual rice need of seven million metric tonnes of processed rice.
What is more annoying is the fact that these same people who are now hell-bent in sabotaging the Buhari rice revolution are the same people who collected billions of naira from the CBN under the out-growers and aggregators schemes. Why should they now be sabotaging the same government they are benefiting from? This is a case the security and intelligence agencies need to unravel and address properly.
•Ojukwu and Ayu are president and secretary-general of Movement for Rural Economy