That is the question some Nigerians are asking even as the President Muhammadu Buhari tells the nation that Nigeria is now self-sufficient in rice production
By Emeka Ejere
THE Muhammadu Buhari administration has always claimed that its ‘rice revolution’ has made the nation attain food sufficiency, especially in rice production.
The government believes that the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, its flagship agriculture programme, has reduced the nation’s dependence on imported rice.
On Tuesday, April 16, Audu Ogbeh, the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, expressed satisfaction that Nigeria was now producing 90 percent of the rice it consumes locally.
Ogbe was speaking at the 2019 Annual Research Review and Planning meeting held at the Institute for Agricultural Research, IAR, Zaria, Kaduna State, with the theme :“Harnessing the Potential of Agricultural Export in Nigeria: The Role of Key Stakeholders.”
Represented by Karima Babangida, the director, Extension Services of the ministry said the support of the present administration had triggered a visible shift “to eating what we grow rather than eating imported food.’’
“One very good example that we see today is the locally home grown Nigerian rice, hitherto, Nigeria has been a major and largest importer of rice from Thailand and this implies largest importer in the world,” he added.
Incidentally, earlier in March, last year Ogbe made a similar claim, when he said Thailand accused Nigeria of being responsible for the collapse of its seven rice mills, following the drastic fall in rice importation from the country, a claim that was faulted by the country’s ambassador to Nigeria.
In January this year, President Mohammadu Buhari, re-echoed the claim that the reduced importation figures seen in the country are a sign of surge in local production and consumption of rice.
Speaking in an interview with ThisDay/Arise TV, Buhari maintained that his administration had done well in rice production.
“We don’t import rice, virtually, anymore. We don’t import rice. We have stopped importing rice and we are even exporting grains,” the president said. “We made very, very large stride in agriculture.”
Yemi Osinbajo, the vice president, had in December made a similar claim at the Vice Presidential Debate, when he said Nigeria produces 90 percent of the rice it consumes.
According to the Central Bank of Nigeria, the volume of rice importation into Nigeria (in metric tonnes) declined drastically in 2018.
Isaac Okorafor, the CBN’s acting director of corporate affairs, said the figures obtained from two dominant rice exporters to Nigeria – India and Thailand, indicated that as at September,2018, Thailand had so far, exported about 5,161 metric tonnes of rice to Nigeria, while India sold only 426 as at July.
Okorafor attributed the reduction to concerted efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the interventions of the CBN, adding that the bank had not allocated any foreign exchange for the importation of rice this year (2018).
Independent check carried out by Premium Times, an online medium, revealed that in 2016, about 58,260MT of rice was imported into Nigeria from Thailand, according to the Thai Rice Exporters Association.
This represents a huge reduction when compared to about 805,765 MT recorded in 2015. By November 2017, the figure reduced to 23,192 MT and between January and November 2018, the figure had crashed to 6,277 MT.
Within the years, the Thai Exporters statistics show that there had been a 72.9 percent reduction in quantity of export to Nigeria while the export value had also crashed by 72.2 percent.
“This, clearly, confirms that there has been reduction in Nigeria’s rice import figures,” Premium Times had stated.
However, the story in the neighbouring Benin Republic, the rice importation figures have assumed an upward trajectory within the same period under review.
According to the Thai Import statistics, from 805,765 MT in 2015, Benin Republic has seen import figures rise to 1,650,237 MT in 2017 and 1,487,188 MT between January and November 2018.
Unfortunately, Nigerian borders are notoriously porous as several reports have established how numerous goods, including rice, find their way into the country through the borders, especially the ones adjoining Benin Republic.
The Punch editorial of December 31, 2018 titled, ‘Protecting Nigeria’s Rice Revolution’ noted: “Nigeria’s quest for self-sufficiency in rice production has, without doubt, got off to an enthusiastic start, with some states already earning for themselves the epithet of “rice-producing.” States like Kebbi, Kaduna, Kano, Jigawa and Ebonyi have taken frontline roles in the battle to wean the country off foreign rice consumption by providing much of the local alternative.”
The same article, however, cautioned: “Yet, it is also becoming increasingly clear that realising this dream will not only be dependent on a massive cultivation of the staple but, even more significantly, on how Nigeria is able to efficiently police her porous borders to shut out smuggled rice from neighbouring countries.”
In November 2016, Hameed Ali, the comptroller general of Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, said the nation’s boarders were porous because of their interconnectivity with adjoining nations, adding that there was no line demarcating Nigeria from its neighbours.
Even the Agriculture minister himself once decried the illegal importation of rice and other products into the country through the land borders.
“Too much rice, too much fake fertiliser is still coming across the borders into this country in spite of the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, we have with them they are not listening,” the minister had observed in March 2018.
More importantly, Benin Republic consumes mostly white rice and most of its par-boiled rice imports, up to 30,000 containers per year, are routed via transit shipments through Niger to the North-West of Nigeria, according to HAS Rice, a leading exporter in Pakistan.
Those conversant with activities in Sango and Owode markets, two major rice hubs in the South West of Nigeria with border communities stretching through the notorious Owode-Idiroko road, seem to have contrary views from that of the federal government.
The road is an international lane linking Nigeria and Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, among other countries.
Realnews learnt from dependable sources that the bags of parboiled rice being transported from the markets are smuggled into Nigeria from neighbouring countries.