Daily Trust (Abuja)

15 May 2012

Nigeria: Why Govt Spends a Billion Naira a Day on Rice Importation

Participants at a stakeholders Workshop on state level implementation of Rice Value Chain for 2012 held at Bolingo Hotel in Abuja today

Rice which used to be an elitist food during the Buhari/Idiagbon regime is now a staple food almost all over the country but the country's economy gains little or nothing from it because most of the rice consumed in the country is imported from abroad, empowering foreign economies.

Professor Tunji Orokoye from the Ahmadu Bello University, who heads the transformation team's 'Agric extension' told the participants in a workshop on 'State Level Implementation of the Rice Value Chain Agenda' that it is very scandalous that Nigeria spends a billion naira each day on importation of rice when rice farming is practicable all over the country.

"Rice has what we call the most scandalous data of all the other value chains," said Professor Orokoyo. "We have been told before that every night you and I go to sleep; we have consumed one billion naira of rice. It is not one million naira but one billion. That is why we say it is scandalous. And you can produce rice in virtually every state in this country."

Why the rice importation persists

Since the farming of rice is viable in virtually all the states of the federation, why does the importation persist? Experts agree that importation persists because there is no enforced policy that discourages importation and encourages local production.

Professor Orokoyo believes that the reasons include "Inadequate and poor quality of staff [is what] some states have argued, yes Fadama community-based, they have taken way our staff, but the few remaining, they still have some quality, but we don't have the quantity, agreed."

Poor infrastructure and inadequate working tools including mobility for the field extension staff, poor development support communications, generally poor conditions of service and the continued use of predominantly top-down extension approaches were some of the other reasons he gave.

But the National President of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Abubakar Wodi, believes the dominance of civil servants in the agricultural sector hampers local production and encourages importation.

Watch Abubakar Modi speaking here:

"How much do we eat, asked the old farmer. " The matter is how much do we produce in Nigeria. There is no financing, nobody is supporting the production process, and automatically the production is zero. So, if we now continue to eat, and we are not producing, obviously we have to get the rice from somewhere. That is the importation. People who do the importation have forgotten the implication. If you are importing rice in whatever cost from any state, you are promoting the agricultural being of that country because you are killing the labour, you are driving the labour away. You are creating labour for them. You are killing the production here; you are creating it there. So, these are the problems. Who are these people? The people who are there are the civil servants. They are the people promoting it."

He also blamed it on the politicisation of policies. He said "Policies are not poor. It is the implementation which for long has been dominated by personality, over personalisation, over-politicisation in the course of implementation. They have been quarrelling ove this. But from the way things are going, that third element might be de-emphasized...

The Solution

The solution to the economic problem according to the rice farmers' president is both the division of the ministry of agriculture in to two and what he called Home Industries Protection Strategy.

"The Federal Ministry of Agriculture," said Wodi "I don't know, I don't have the statistics, but it is a large ministry. And I cannot see the minister himself managing the ministry of agriculture the way they are, not even the Permanent Secretary, not even whoever the Directors of the ministry are. I want to emphasise that there is the need to break down the ministry of Agriculture into two: the ministry [which deals] with policy matters, budgeting matters and other matters, then the other a commission for agriculture handling production experts. If we do that, that is all."

"Don't rush into banning importation," he said of a proposal he made to former president Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, "rather we should allow them, while they are still coming and charge them levy. I call it HIPS, Home Industry Protection Strategy. If you charge them levy, you can use that levy to finance the production of rice without distorting the government budget. And in that way you will find that in the market the imported rice will cost higher. And this money we realise, we will use it for facilitating our project. I said it in the media."

Asked what happened to the proposal, he said. "If it had happened, we will not be here."

The Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Bukar Tijjani, believes availability of varieties of high yielding seeds is key to self sufficiency in rice production.

"The Key to self sufficiency in rice production is availability of seeds of improved high yielding rice varieties," the minister told a the workshop on state level implementation of rice value chain agenda for 2012. "Nigeria is not short of improved rice varieties. Currently, it has over 60 rice varieties officially released. Varieties FARO 44, 52, 57, 59, 60 and 61 are popular among farmers, processors and consumers. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMA&RD) has empowered the Seed Association of Nigeria (SEEDAN) with loans secured through NIRSAL to produce about 15,000mt of certified seeds required to put 1.5 million hectares of land under improved rice varieties by 2014."

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