Rice farming plagued by insecurity, flooding
Nigeria to become world’s 2nd biggest importer of rice in 2019
Local rice not competitive
Anchor borrowers hijacked by politicians Herdsmen attacks in could led to food insecurity –Ortom
Rice farmers in Nigeria have reported a drop in output since last year due to a combination of higher input costs, insecurity and widespread flooding in the main growing regions. At the same time, people are giving up traditional coarse grains in favour of imported rice as the country’ population is set to hit 200 million. PAUL OGBUOKIRI writes on these and other factors that have combined to continue to make the Federal Government’s rice self-sufficiency targets unrealistic.
Obviously, rice is a big deal in Nigeria. The produce is no doubt Nigeria’s number one stable food and the country is alleged to be spending about $5miilion daily on its importation even as demand for rice was put at over 5.2million metric tonnes (mmts) in 2016.
This is as Nigeria’s rice imports is expected to rise by 13 per cent next year to 3.4mmts, a year, making the country the world’s biggest rice importer after China, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“China and Nigeria are projected to remain the largest rice importing countries in 2019, followed by the EU, Cote d’Ivoire, and Iran,” the USDA said in its latest Rice Outlook released Tuesday. “Nigeria and Egypt are projected to account for the bulk of the 2019 import increase.”
Nigeria according to the report is further expected to demand 35mmts by 2050, due to population growth.
Though Nigeria is the second highest producer in Africa, producing about 2mmts a year, it is the highest consumer and has depended on importation to bridge the deficit (of about 3.2mmts).
To this end, the country’s appetite for rice means that Nigeria imported nearly 17mmts of rice over the past five years. Duties for imported rice are currently 60 per cent and consumers have seen the price of a bag of rice double between 2014 and 2016.
Furthermore, with the country’s increasing urban population, Nigerian’s taste for the polished and stone-free rice has continued to rise over and above the locally produced brands, which do not meet best standards.
But the government in recent times has shown some form of determination to turn the table against importation of rice and fill the gap with locally produced rice.
Though the effort predated the Buhari regime, this government however, believes that its policy on rice had succeeded in forcing down rice import into the country by 90 per cent, even as local production had moved up by over 100 per cent less than one year after it was introduced.
FG’s, USDA’s contradictory claims
The government’s claim, which can be interpreted to mean that 90 per cent of the rice eaten in Nigeria today is locally produced does not, however, represent the real situation in the markets across the country, as they are full of foreign rice imported from Thailand and India.
It is sequel to this contradiction that the government’s reaction to the recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which indicated that Nigeria imported 3mmts of rice in 2018, even as rice importation is set to increase by 13 per cent to hit 3.4mmts, in 2019; has continued to generate interest.
This came as the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh and his counterpart in the Ministry of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in their reaction to the report, said records from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigeria Customs Service (NCS); show that rice import into the country had fallen by 90 per cent.
Ogbeh said: “After that report I went to the CBN and I met with the governor on Monday and asked him how many Letters of Credit (LC) they have opened this year for rice importation and he said `not one’ and you can ask the CBN governor.”
Sunday Telegraph’s investigation
However, an independent investigation by Sunday Telegraph found out that the claim by the two ministers was correct. But our corresponded noted that with the CBN’s removal of ‘41 items’, in 2015, from the list of goods importers can’t access foreign exchange from the Nigerian Interbank Forex Market, the apex bank had subsequently stopped opening LCs for the importation of rice into the country.
In addition to that, the ban on importation of rice through Nigeria’s land borders and imposition of 60 per cent tariff on it, including the high cost of doing business in the Nigerian ports discouraged those who can independently source their own forex from importing rice through the Nigerian ports.
To this end, most of the foreign rice eaten in Nigeria came through the country’s porous borders after landing at the Cotonou Port at 7 per cent Import duty.
“That explains why while importation of rice through Nigerian seaports has declined by 90 per cent, importation by Benin, Cameroon and Niger, which do not consume parboiled rice increased by over 100 per cent,” experts say.
An Agribusiness & Youth Empowerment Coordinator, Community of Agricultural Stakeholders of Nigeria (CASON), Sotonye Anga, said the administration has done well but there is plenty of room for an improved performance.
He said rice is still smuggled in from Benin Republic and might send Nigerian farmers out of business.
He said: “I have travelled across the country. Right now in Ogun State, if you go to places across the border, you will see crazy movement of rice from Benin Republic into Nigeria. I think the Customs and other security apparatuses positioned across our border towns should be able to reduce the massive importation of rice into the country because, the obvious truth is that, they still smuggle rice in those very small vehicles.”
He said if rice brought in from Benin Republic, Niger and Cameroon is coming into Nigeria, selling between N7000 to N8000 per 60 kilogramme bag, farmers in Nigeria will not be able to stand the competition.
Endless self-sufficiency targets
The Jonathan administration had set 2015 target for the country to become self-sufficiency in rice production and its efforts toward realising that dream was acknowledge by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). To ensure a gradual realisation of the ambition through its backward integration programme, the government supported rice farming and further imposed a 110 per cent tariff on imported rice, vowing to place an outright ban on its importation in 2015.
But President Mohammad Buhari at the inception of his administration in 2015 jettisoned the Jonathan’s target and fixed his own self-sufficient target for 2017. The date was later shifted for December 2018; when he hoped production would reach 7mmts.
Speaking on the government’s 2018 target, Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, stated that “by 2018, the administration targets a rice production of 7mmts. As of 2015, rice demand in Nigeria stood at 6.3mmts.”
Similarly, when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was acting president when President Buhari was away on medical vacation, last year, in United Kingdom, Osinbajo in his presentation at the second anniversary of the government gave a new date, 2019.
He said: “I am delighted to note that since 2015 our imports of rice have dropped by 90 per cent, while domestic production has almost tripled. Our goal is to produce enough rice to meet local demand by 2019. All of these are evidences that we are taking very seriously our ambition of agricultural self-sufficiency.”
Also, the Federal Government last April in Lagos announced yet another date – the magic year, 2020 will be the year the country will attain self-sufficiency in rice production, provided the implementation of the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme launched on November 17, 2015; is sustained.
Foreign rice floods markets
Following the drastic fall in Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings from the sale of crude oil in 2015, and the subsequent pressure on the naira, the CBN in an effort to conserve the scarce forex, listed 41 items it banned from accessing forex from the Inter-bank Forex Market. Rice was top on the list.
Also, while the Buhari administration removed the 50 per cent levy on rice, it retained the 60 per cent duties on imported rice. However, Benin Republic crashed its own tariff to a paltry 7 per cent. This was even as the Cotonou Port charges is said to be far less than what is obtainable in Nigeria, even as the port is said to be more business friendly.
To make matters worse, the Federal Government retained the ban on importation of rice through the land borders put in place earlier by the Jonathan administration. Subsequently, rice importers resorted to importing rice through the ports of Nigeria’s neighbouring countries and in turn smuggle same into the country in bits through unapproved border routes and creeks across the country.
Consequently, they flooded Nigerian markets with rice and sell at between N6, 000 and N8, 000 depending on quality. Conversely, the locally produced rice which is rarely seen, but is in high demand by Nigerians, it sells at between N15, 000 and N17, 000 when one manages to find it.
Local rice uncompetitive
Operators in the rice sub-sector say that issues around quality, price instability, and harvesting/processing challenges, among others, remain the clog in the wheel. They insisted that until and unless these issues are resolved Nigeria’s dream of achieving self-sufficiency in rice production will remain a pipe dream.
They put the problems in perspective when they lamented that local rice production remained uncompetitive because of high cost of input. They said for instance that rice farmers and investors are bogged down by rising cost of inputs such as seeds, irrigation water, fertilisers and other assorted chemicals and pesticides, among others.
According to them, rice farmers are contending with high electricity bills and other inputs, which have pushed up cost of domestic rice prices. They said prices of domestic rice have doubled in the last two years despite the ‘technical’ ban on rice importation.
“The quality of our seeds is a contributory factor in the high cost of our locally produced rice. The resulting yield from these seeds means that the cost at which millers purchase paddy is high, with varying quality and subsequently, the rice recovered after milling is below the global average of 62 per cent,” they said.
No subsidy, no infrastructure
Recently, investigation carried out in five states, which include Lagos, Ekiti, Kebbi, Kaduna and Ebonyi – and in neighbouring Benin Republic, revealed that the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), which was touted as the answer to Nigeria’s quest for self-sufficiency in rice production, has failed in most places with the government unable to recoup a large chunk of the N55 billion loan already disbursed.
Sunday Telegraph learnt that the ABP has given rise to a multitude of angry farmers who claim that the programme has been hijacked by local politicians who disburse funds to fake farmers and has become a means for political patronage.
Efforts by the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) to salvage the programme is merely slogging by, as complaints of the supply of expired herbicide, bad seeds and other challenges are threatening to derail it.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s huge infrastructure deficit has not helped either. Lack of access roads, which increased transportation cost, has continued to frustrate rice farmers. Also, the nation’s perennial inadequate power supply means that rice millers have to run on diesel-powered generators at huge cost.
The Chairman, Kebbi State Rice Farmers Association, Alhaji Sahabi Augie, lamented that farmers are still battling with high costs of inputs, including seeds, fertilizers, chemicals and diesel, used for running milling machines. He said that the situation was responsible for rice not being produced cheaply.
Augie said, for instance, that fuel is sold for N180 per litre around Kebbi State, and he needs to buy it daily to operate irrigation pumps. The same applies to all farmers because they use fuel for irrigation water. He, however, expressed happiness that the price of fertiliser has gone down to N5000 a bag.
Herdsmen crisis/Insurgency and flood disaster
It has been said that the root cause of the herdsmen/farmers’ clashes involves nomadic herdsmen venturing southwards seeking grazing land for their cattle given increased desertification in northern part of the country. But grazing on farmlands has destroyed livelihoods of farmers, triggering a deadly cycle of confrontations and reprisal attacks.
But, in addition to the tragic loss of lives, continued violence in a major food-producing region was further argued, is bad for the agriculture and food industries with wider implications for the productivity of Nigeria. Experts argue that sustained pastoral conflicts, which hamper food production means that taking advantage of any gaps in global agriculture trade will remain a pipe dream for a while.
The recent flood disaster which ravaged the country destroyed farmland and other properties this year, did not spare rice farms in Kogi, Benue, Kebbi, Adamawa, Taraba states.
Rice Farmers Association (RIFAN) in Edo State said that thousands of hectares of rice farmlands were destroyed by flood in several communities in Edo North and Edo Central senatorial districts.
National Vice President of the association, Mr. DirisuAbdulsalam, said that the flooding would have negative effect on the rice-sufficiency drive of the government
Also speaking on disaster visited on rice farmers in Kebbi State by the flood, Mohammed Sahabi, chairman of the Rice Farmers Association in Nigeria in Kebbi, said,“The rain has not been favorable to rice farmers this year. We lost more than 20,000 hectares of unharvested rice this year in Kebbi alone.”
Last week, Farmcrowdy, an agribusiness start-up that allows middle-class Nigerians fund farmers across the country and share in profits, said some of its farmer-partners were killed in the Plateau attack. As hundreds of smallholder farmers in Nigeria’s north are a key cog in the business models of Farmcrowdy and other agriculture crowd funding businesses, the sustained risk of violence affects the wider value chain.
Onyeka Akumah, Chief Executive of Farmcrowdy, said the business did not work with farmers in affected areas this year due to the risk of violence and will “avoid such areas until we deem them safe for our investments.”
“Being cut off the value chain is a significant loss for these smallholder farmers as agribusinesses provide them increased access to capital and, crucially, guaranteed sales,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom has warned that the sustained attacks on Benue communities by suspected herdsmen could lead to food insecurity in the country.
Ortom stated this at the Government House in Makurdi, during a courtesy call by the Presidential Committee on Rehabilitation of communities affected by farmers and herdsmen crisis. Since then, many Nigerians, including security and agricultural experts have issued similar warnings.
Despite this, the herdsmen attacks on farmers and farmlands, especially in the North central states of Benue, Taraba, Kogi and Plateau are still on the increase.
Benue, popularly referred to as the country’s ‘Food Basket’, has not known peace till date because of herdsmen attacks. Farmers in the agrarian communities of the state have abandoned their farmlands and fled to safer climes because of herdsmen’s attacks. They are today living as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at various IDP camps in the state. The situation is not different in neighbouring Kogi, Taraba and Plateau.
Private sector operators wade in
However, all hopes are not lost on the possibility of the country achieving self-sufficiency in rice production in the country as he government’s policy has attracted many big investors into rice farming including Olam, a multi-national agribusiness, which set up a rice farm in 2012 in response to government calls for local players to help feed the fast growing Nigerian population.
Also, Coscharis Farms, which is a 2, 600 hectares rice plantation, funded through the Anchor Borrowers Programme, is aimed at boosting food production in the country, especially rice.
The CBN granted Coscharis Farms a N2 billion Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme (CACS) to boost its capacity to produce rice all-year round, which are three harvests a year.
Coscharis Group Chairman, Mr. Cosmas Maduka, said Coscharis Farms Limited will provide full time employment for about 3, 000 people as well as drive ancillary industrial growth in the state when all the phases of the investment are completed.
Similarly, Dangote Industries Limited (DIL) has also thrown its hat in the rice cultivation ring. The indigenous conglomerate has since signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) to invest $1billion (N306 billion) on the establishment of full integrated rice production and processing operations across Nigeria.
Farmlands in Edo, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kwara, and Niger states, totalling 150,000 hectares, have been penciled down for commercial production of paddy rice.
Dangote inaugurated its 8,000-hectare rice out-growers’ scheme in Hadejia, Jigawa State early this year when he distributed rice seedlings to farmers.
The scheme was said to have helped reduce the level of Nigeria’s imports while potentially providing direct and indirect jobs to about 10, 000 Nigerians.
Massive smuggling of rice
Nigeria with a land mass of 4,000 square kilometres coverage, has well over 1,400 illegal routes, which are not manned.
The number of illegal routes is 100 times more than the number of approved routes.
With only 84 approved land border control posts designated in the 1980s after the Maitatsine riots, there are more than 1,400 illegal borders spanning across the country where illegal activities especially smuggling is taking place.
In Ogun State, there are at least 83 illegal routes, while in Adamawa the country has about 80 illegal routes with which illegal trade and migration takes place unabated.
For instance, in the Idiroko and Seme border, lots of smuggling occurs at the illegal routes with several thousand of banned items such as foreign parboiled rice, vehicles, poultry products, groundnut oil among others are illegally exported into the country on a daily basis.
At Idiroko and Seme borders, smuggling of contrabands remained unchecked with industry players attributing that to connivance of officers of the commands.
Last January, Customs officers, who are supposed to fight smuggling at the nation’s border points, were caught helping smugglers to move vehicles, and rice at the border.
Officers of the service especially Idiroko were allegedly offered N30, 000 by smugglers to drive in banned items such as vehicles and foreign parboiled rice from neighbouring Benin Republic into Nigeria.
Last week, the CGC’s strike force intercepted about 6660 bags of rice, which is equivalent to 11 trucks of rice in the south-west after it was successfully smuggled into the country through the land borders.
Though the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said while they believe Nigeria is no longer importing rice is because, “You cannot claim that smuggled rice is part of rice imported into the country”.
The country needs to find an urgent solution to the smuggling of rice and adequately support genuine local farmers. Of course bringing an end to the herdsmen/farmers clashes is equally important.
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