Chief Emma Nnadi is the convener ECOWAS trade link, an association committed to free trade across west Africa Sub region.
Recently, he spoke with Daily Sun on the Federal Government Total ban of Rice and poultry, submitting that the nation Agriculture sector is yet to meet the required target of rice and poultry consumption in the country. He said in view of this shortfall, FG should allow importation to bridge the gaps. He speaks further.
What is Federal Government position on rice and poultry?
The Federal government position on rice and poultry importation is total ban of importation of the product across land and sea border. First, the government started with prohibition of rice from land border post. But today their physical policy on Apapa port and all ports in Nigeria is that they should not allow importation of rice ijto the country. Formerly it was restricted only in land border areas but today, it has become a general issue meaning that prohibition has been extended to seaports and they call it physical policy prohibiting importation of rice and that is government position till date.
Are you saying that there is no bulk importation of rice from Nigeria Seaport?
As of today there is no any ship carrying rice that can offload in any Nigerian Seaport. Rice is highly restricted. Rice has become contraband.
What are the implications of this policy on our economy?
The implication is adverse because in a situation whereby FG bans a product that we don’t have enough produce, it would only lead to scarcity with sky rocketing price. For instance, if the FG was properly advised, I don’t think it would have restricted rice totally. Since Nigeria consume about 700 metric tons of rice per annum, and we can only be sure of about 3.5 million metric tons locally, I wonder why rice should not be imported to complement the shortfalls. We are talking of adverse economy and you are restricting essential food commodities, how do you expect the masses to survive?
But from time to time, you hear from the Federal Government that Nigeria rice farmers are capable of meeting the nations rice need, how true is this claim?
Well, there are some states in Nigeria that produce rice in large commercial quantity
We no many of them from the north and some in the Southeast. The issue is not only cultivating or harvesting of rice. What we need in Nigeria is machinery to cultivate and harvest rice in a mechanized way. We need modern equipment to mill rice. In this regards we need energy. Steady electricity to be precise. If there is no steady power, you cannot mill rice. Even if you import milling machines but without power it would still amount to nothing.
Infact it has been proven that in some states, the farmers harvest enough rice but the milling machines may not be able to cope. Some of the machines are obsolete and lacks the facility to sort stones and debris. This poor finishing makes it difficult for Nigeria rice to compete with imported rice.
So we need to put certain things in place to boost rice production. First, steady electricity, two, machine and expertise must be on ground. Since the government is quick at banning rice importation, it should also be quick at importing equal that would aid local rice production.
Government at all level should help Rice farmers in establishing rice mills across the rice producing states to enable them process their produce. So government must work on all this challenges so that farmers can meet the quota required for the nation. If the FG is unable to create this enabling environment, then it should allow importation of rice to make up for the shortfalls.
Government should also decentralise agriculture ministry. Instead of concentrating everything in Abuja, Agriculture Commissioners should be appointed to oversee and assist rice farmers across the country.
Also, Bank of Agriculture should be provided with fund to provide loan for the farmers. Fertilizers should also be distributed to the farmers. Traditional rulers should also be involved so that they can effectively supervise the activities of the farmers.
What is the implication of total ban of rice on the consumers?
The immediate effect is that many people would continue to go hungry and that would be too bad for the country. Somebody even alleged that hunger breeds crime and banditry. Because many Nigerians are hungry, it makes it easy for criminals to lure them into crime.
Hunger also breed social vices like kidnapping, ritual killings all over the country.
What about the River Basins, do you think they still exist?
Yes. They are there especially in the North. Through Irrigation, rice are produced round the year. But then, how about processing? Farmers are allover the country producing rice but with poor finishing, most of their products ends up in the trash. For instance round the year you find mangoes everywhere but because of poor storage facilities, only few of this fruits are consumed at the end of the day while the rest end up in dumpsite.
So what should the FG do?
FG erred in the first place by imposing total ban on rice without the necessary arrangement to boost rice production. Again despite the ban, rice still continues to be smuggled in through our porous borders with the attendant revenue loss to the government.
As obtainable in other countries, government through Nigeria Customers should impose high tariff to discourage importation of rice.
For instance when was in India, the India government recommended ‘Indicar’ the only vehicles in the country but if you must use foreign car then you have to pay as high as 150 per cent tariff. This measure not only yielded the country revenue but it also subtly discouraged importation of foreign rice.
What about poultry?
FG ban importation of frozen poultry into the country is also wrong. Like rice, poultry is also classified as contraband. Lopsided activities of agencies at the Port and border post have not also helped matters. Often you hear Customs, SON, NAFDAC and others giving conflicting report on this product. These agencies create confusion. The result is that this product are ate branded unfit for consumption without through investigation.
Customs should be allowed to carry out their duty by using high tariff to control important of certain products including frozen poultry products.