President Muhammadu Buhari the other day unveiled 13 rice pyramids in Abuja and assured Nigerians that prices of food items, especially rice, would soon come down, thereby making it more affordable to all. The unveiling of the rice pyramids was organised by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the Anchor Borrower’s Programme (ABP) in collaboration with the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN). The Buhari administration might have used the occasion to demonstrate its commitment to food security in the country.
Although the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has described the event as another media stunt to beguile Nigerians ahead of 2023 elections, the President reeled out statistics from the CBN to support his claims that with the expansion of rice farming across the country, the production has increased to over 7.5 million metric tons annually, and importation of rice, especially from Thailand has dropped by 99.8 per cent. He urged for patience before the huge investment in the sector will begin to yield the expected results.
While we commend the government’s effort to increase food production, Nigerians will believe the President when the price of rice comes down to its 2015 price of N10,000 when Buhari assumed office. On assumption of office, the government promised, among others, to diversify the economy through agriculture and solid minerals. Hitherto, agriculture was the mainstay of Nigerian economy. We remember with nostalgia the groundnut pyramid in the North, cocoa plantation in the West and palm produce in the East. However, things changed dramatically with the discovery of oil and the resultant oil money, which unfortunately led to the utter neglect of agriculture. Therefore, the renewed effort to revamp agriculture is commendable. If vigorously pursued, it will make Nigeria self-sufficient in food and cash crops production.
Under the ABP, commercial banks lend to farmers with a guarantee to buy the produce from them during harvest. The fact that the loan is disbursed in cash and repaid in kind provides mitigation against the major risks like diversion of loan proceeds and default in the repayment as a result of low sales. There is no doubt that the CBN-led ABP has catalysed the rural economy and built sustainable framework for financing smallholder farmers in some parts of the country, its full impact is yet to be felt since the price of the commodity remains out of the reach of most Nigerians. According to the CBN, as at the end of December 2021, it had financed 4.48 million farmers who cultivated 5.30 million hectares across 21 commodities through 23 participating financial institutions in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The banks say they had disbursed about N900billion to farmers since the inception of the ABP six years ago. With the modest success recorded in rice production, it is time to focus attention on other products such as wheat and palm oil produce. According to statistics, wheat is the third consumed grain in the country after maize and rice.
Data from the CBN show that Nigeria produces only one per cent (about 63,000 metric tons) of the estimated 6 million metric tons of wheat consumed annually in the country. Currently, about $2billion is spent on importing wheat every year, making it the second highest food import bill that has put pressure on the nation’s foreign exchange reserves. In all, Nigerians want real action on national food sufficiency and security.
Food remains the first need of humans, and no country can claim to be great without food security. Therefore, it should not be politicised. Let emphasis be on seed improvement and packaging of finished food products. In that regard, farmers must move away from manual to mechanised farming. Government should assist them by procuring the necessary equipment that will make farming less tedious.
Crops like cashew, cassava, yam, vegetable and banana will do well in the international market if real value is added to them. To achieve sufficiency in food production and boost exports, government must pay attention to threats to food security, which include insecurity, especially farmers/herders clashes, high cost of farm implements and unpredictable exchange rate regime.