A forthnight ago, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, announced that the price of rice was set to crash further and be more available to Nigerians. CALEB ONWE examines the impacts of affordable rice on the lives of Nigerians.
For Nigerians, rice is the number one staple food being consumed nationwide.
Indeed, rice is a variety of cabohydrate food that gives human being the basic energy, which strengthens him in his daily work activities.
However, since the introduction of the Federal Government’s Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Anchor Borrowers Programme for rice production and self-sufficiency, there has been a paradigm shift towards local rice expansion.
For the government, the production of local rice in large volume is meant to make Nigeria become a hub among rice producing nations and generate foreign exchange earnings.
But in spite of the government’s effort to raise the bar towards sustainable self-sufficiency in rice production, the price of the local rice in the market is astronomical and this has been a barrier to Nigerians patronage of local rice produce.
Indeed, investigations showed that prices of foreign rice imported into the country are cheaper than the rice produced locally.
However, in order to correct the abnormalcy, the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, stepped in to assure Nigerians of the Federal Government’s intention to further crash price of local rice in the country.
Govt’s action plan
To actualize this, the Minister hinted that efforts were being made to get all the stakeholders together on the table to work out the modalities.
He stated that the Inter-ministerial committee set up by the Federal government was already working towards meeting with rice growers and the millers who play major roles in production of rice.
Ogbeh said: “We are talking to farmers to ensure that the prices are drastically reduced. Although, the high price is bad for the consumers who don’t farm rice, but is good for the country, because more people will be motivated to go into farming to achieve increase in production.”
Though, a welcome development, but those who are sceptical about such an uncommon feat have doubted the existence of a political will to make it a reality.
Other economic watchers have also expressed the hope that the planned reduction in the prices of one of the most loved staple food in Nigeria may be the permanent solution to the smuggling of the commodity that had persisted in the country, despite the onslaught been launched by the customs on the smugglers.
There are also those who believe that what the government plans to do, regarding the price of rice can only be achievable in an environment where all the economic indices are made to align properly.
Local rice production
Local production of rice was massively boosted when the CBN intervened in the sector through its Anchor Borrower Programme.
This initiative empowered many rice farmers and increased production in some key states such as Kebbi, Jigawa, Ebonyi, Niger, Katsina and Nasarawa where production of the commodity has been up scaled to commercial level.
In one of the media reports, national President, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria ( RIFAM), Alhaji Aminu Goronyu, confirmed the enormous benefits in the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers Programme for rice farmers. He said that members of his association were working towards reducing the prices of rice.
He said: “We are going to assist the Federal Government to produce more rice as a part of the plans to bring down the price of rice. There are several efforts that we are making to see that in no distant time, the price of rice will come down for Nigerians to have access to affordable milled rice.”
Nigeria, presently, is recognised as the highest producer of rice in West African sub-region and is also said to be third, after Egypt and Madagascar, in the African continent.
Consumption rate of rice in Nigeria is said to be around eight million metric tons and out of this consumption rate, local production is also said be around six million tons, leaving a huge deficit of about two million metric tons.
Those who sympathise with importers and smugglers of foreign rice into the country, premise their argument on the necessity to bridge the gap of demand and supply of the commodity.
It has also been discovered that some consumers have preferences for imported rice varieties, their reasons, however, is that millers in Nigeria do not have the required technology that will process rice to meet the globally acceptable standard.
Though, there may not be uniformed prices for the rice varieties across the country, but evidence abounds that many consumers are still struggling to purchase it.
While the 50kg bag of locally processed rice cost between N17,000 and N20,000, the foreign and imported varieties cost a little above that.
These prices also depend on the markets, some other variables and market forces. At some markets, the imported varieties cost up to N23, 500 and N25, 000.
Industry stakeholders are of the view that if the prices of rice could be brought down considerably, it will no longer be attractive to smuggle the commodity into the country.
They argue that the high cost of the commodity was one of the factors that have continued to aid smuggling of rice through the land borders.
Recently, there was a shocking revelation at one of the Senate Committee’s public hearing, that the nation’s economy was losing N7 trillion annually through smuggling of rice.
According to one of the media reports, the Senate raised concerns over the disappearance of about 282 rice conveying vessels at various ports in the country, between 2010 and 2016.
Another group of stakeholders, who believe that smuggling of rice through the land borders could abruptly come to an end in Nigeria, if the price of the commodity is crashes, is Rice Millers Importers and Distributors Association of Nigeria (RIMIDAN). In one of the reports credited to them, the group lamented that about 800,000 metric tons of rice that should have been legally cleared by the Customs at the ports were illegally diverted to Cotonou for the purpose of smuggling.
According to the group, the country loses up to N78.44 billion in Customs revenue to smugglers of rice.
It is also argued that reduction in the prices will increase demands of the commodity, which will affect production rate, thereby creating more employment.
Some stakeholders also see it as an opportunity for the existing rice mills to be upgraded, while more efficient ones will be opened.
Stakeholders believe that if the prices of rice are crashed, with more incentives being given to rice growers and millers for enhanced production and processing, the rice industry would have attained the level of glory it deserves.
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