Boost Foreign Reserve: Stop Rice Importation

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Buhari

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Nigerians from all walks of life are urging the federal government to stop the importation of rice and sundry products which are produced locally to stop the depletion of foreign reserve

|  By Maureen Chigbo  |  June 19, 2015 @ 10.00 GMT  |

THE debate on ending the importation of rice is on ever since the United States, a major exporter of the product to the country claimed that Nigeria will not attain self-sufficiency in its production in 2015. This statement came on the heels of the position of the Adewunmi Adesina that Nigeria will be self- sufficient in rice production in 2015.

Six months is already passed in 2015 and stakeholders including farmers are urging the federal government to muster the political will to end importation of rice which guzzles enormous foreign exchange which in turn depletes the foreign reserve of the country.  Nigeria currently spends about a billion Naira daily importing rice, a development, which the Adesina, says is helping to put farmers to work in countries like the United states, India and Thailand, while putting farmers out of work in Nigeria.

This is why Dele Oye, vice president of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Mines and Agriculture, NACCIMA, is urged the government to proceed in the pursuit of the 2015 deadline for the ban on rice importation, calling it an easy way out of the unnecessarily high cost of feeding Nigerians.

Nigeria has no business with food insecurity, due to the wide variety of food crops that grow well and produce bountifully in the country, Oye said, asking: “Why do people always associate our country’s food security with rice? When did we begin to eat rice in this quantity? We are the highest producers of yam and cassava in the world. We produce maize, millet, guinea corn, plantain, coco yam, cowpea, soya beans, and various other staple food crops in abundance. So, from where did they get the information that if we do not have enough rice, then our people would starve? They cannot be farther from the truth.”

According to him, even if local production of rice fails to meet local consumption of the commodity in Nigeria by 2015, all that will happen is that people will switch from rice as their major source of carbohydrate to other sources such as garri, yam, cocoa yam, plantain and millet among others.

In 2014, Adesina had said that going by the massive increase in rice production across the country occasioned by the implementation of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, ATA, and the Growth Enhancement Scheme, GES, of the federal government, indigenous rice producers would be able to produce all the rice needed in the country by 2015. This would make way for a ban on the importation of the commodity this year even though

Contrarily, the United States Department of Agriculture report recently said that rice farmers and millers in Nigeria believe the decision to ban rice imports completely in 2015 could be counter-productive and requires a review to protect the interests of the local rice industry. US estimates rice exports to Nigeria in 2013-14 stood at about 3 million tonnes, up about 3.4 percent from about 2.9 million tonnes of rice imports in the 2012-13.  The USDA said that Nigeria’s rice production in 2013-14 is expected to reach around 2.7 million tonnes, up about 12.5 percent from previous year’s production of about 2.4 million tonnes. It projects rice consumption in Nigeria to increase to around 6 million tonnes in 2013-14, up about 11 percent from around 5.4 million tonnes in the previous year.

But United States may be wrong in its estimates. For sometime now, local rice farmers across the country have been reporting substantial and sustained improvement in both the quantity and quality of their rice harvests. Against the backdrop of these indications, and in light of the significant depletion of the country’s foreign exchange reserves for the persistent importation of huge stockpiles of rice by certain businesspeople, Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, initiated a fact-finding visit of relevant staff of the Bank to some rice producing states of the federation. Preliminary indications from reports of the staff visit to Kebbi State is very disturbing, to say the least. In the last harvest season, farmers attained very high yields of about 7 metric tonnes per hectare, whereas the average yield is about 4.5 metric tonnes per hectare. In the absence of off-takers for this bumper harvests, the state government indicated that they had invested about N800 million to purchase over 180, 000 Metric Tonnes of rice for storage from local farmers, in order to encourage them to continue farming.

It is also noteworthy that in one of the major rice-producing belts of the State (including Jega and Yola-Augie), only 20 percent of the 500,000 hectares of land available for rice cultivation is being utilized at the moment. It is also instructive that Kebbi State is only one of nearly 20 States in the country that can grow rice in commercial quantity. While we await the findings of the CBN staff visits to other States, the results from Kebbi State alone make it difficult to understand why the country is still depleting her foreign exchange reserves for importation of rice when there is now ample and incontrovertible evidence that we can produce it locally.

In view of the fact that the rice being produced in the country right now is of the highest global quality, and there is still plenty of land for more cultivation, is it not yet time for the CBN to stop rice importers from accessing the interbank market and conserve the country’s very limited foreign exchange?

Nigerians from all walks of life including economists, financial analysts, lawyers who spoke to Realnews said the time is now to stop the depleting of the foreign reserve through giving forex and all manner of waivers to not only rice importers but all importers of producers that are produced locally including fisheries and poultry products.

“Policy makers have to face reality, muster political will and take the bull by the horn. If you buy parboiled rice it is because smugglers are importing it and the federal government is not doing aggressive marketing of the locally produced quality rice. People buy imported rice because it is available and cheaper. If we have to eat the rice produced in the country we have to face reality. Have you seen anybody promoting it. Is it served in restaurant in the country, at parties even organised by government officials,” a banker, who handled the account of the Stallion Group, one of the major importers of rice in the country, who wishes anonymity said.

Similarly, Princess Mediatrix Chigbo, an Abuja-based legal practitioner, supports the ban on importation of rice because “I believe our local farmers can produce enough if adequately encouraged. And the ban on importation of rice will stop depletion of foreign reserve and improve economic inflow into the country with exportation of our own processed rice because we do indeed have good quality rice from across the length and breath of the country.

“We have Ofada in the west. We have Abakiliki rice which is of more nutritive value than the imported polished rice because of its high content of bran. There is also the long grain rice that comes from the North that can compete with any long grain elsewhere if properly processed,” she said.

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