I'm not sure anyone saw it coming. Yes, we all know there's a rice revolution going on in the country in the last three years. We heard plenty of that on the campaign trail before the February 23 presidential election. But many have thought, like me, that it was all campaign stunts.
But it became real when Dr Harold Roy-Macauley, the Director-General, Africa Rice Center, Benin Republic, was quoted as saying Nigeria is now the largest rice producer in Africa, overtaking Egypt which had held the title, in the last one year.
We now know that Nigeria is the largest rice producer in Africa because it produces 4 million tonnes out of the Africa average of 14.6 million tonnes of rice annually. Egypt, which Nigeria has edged out of the lead, used to produce 4.3 tonnes annually but suffered a decline of almost 40 percent in the last one year. The reduction in production was attributed to the Egyptian government decision to limit cultivation to preserve water resources.
But while Egypt's production is on decline, Nigeria's has been on the rise in the last three years to reach the current level. The good news in the rice sector may not be surprising to stakeholders already familiar with developments in the nation's agricultural sector. But for others, it will encourage interest in what's going on and how to be part of it.
The success in rice production would lead to renewed interest in the partnership between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN since 2015.
It is a fact that attempts have been made by past governments to recreate agriculture through various schemes such as "Operation Feed the Nation" and the "Green Revolution" initiative of the Shehu Shagari administration during the second republic, among others. But none of the previous efforts created the desired impact largely due to inadequate financing.
This is a gap which has now been closed by the CBN under Godwin Emefiele. In keeping with his promise to run a central bank that would serve the growth and development needs of the country, Emefiele has ensured the CBN becomes a strategic driver of economic growth of the country. The CBN under him has introduced various initiatives for concessionary funding of agriculture, which is widely recognized as the sector that has the potential to drive economic growth.
These initiatives and intervention schemes can broadly be classified under sectors of agriculture, manufacturing, micro, small and medium scale enterprises, power and energy and banking. But nowhere have these interventions yielded more so quickly as in the agriculture sector where rice production has received the most focus.
CBN development finance initiatives like the Agricultural Credit Guaranty Scheme, Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme and Anchor Burrowers programme (ABP), among others have tremendously helped to reposition the agriculture sector in the country.
The ABP, one of the initiatives of the CBN which has made very positive impact, was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 17, 2015 to create a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and small holder farmers of the required key agricultural commodities. The programme has focused primarily on rice production.
The thrust of the ABP is the provision of farm inputs in kind and cash (for farm labour) to small holder farmers to boost production of these commodities, stabilize inputs supply to agro processors and address the country's negative balance of payments on food. The objective is to boost agricultural production and non-oil exports in the face of unpredictable crude oil prices and its resultant effect on the revenue profile of Nigeria.
The programme empowered rice farmers and processors in the country and resulted in a significant boost in rice production in the country. Statistics from the CBN indicate that the ABP has added two million metric tons to rice supply in the country and created 500,000 jobs. This is clearly a revolution in rice production in the country which succinctly confirms that agriculture financing is key to a faster growth of the economy.
There is no other sector of the economy that had employed similar number of people within the same period. But that is not to say we are where we should be; it is just an acknowledgement of the mileage covered. But the road to self-sufficiency in food production still stretches further.
Reports show that Nigeria is still an importer of rice, despite the laudable progress made. The volume of rice importation into Nigeria has declined drastically, but we're still insufficient in rice production. Export figures obtained from India and Thailand, which are dominant rice exporters to Nigeria, indicate that as at September, the latter had so far exported about 5,161 metric tonnes of rice to Nigeria, while the former sold only a paltry 426 tonnes as at July 2018.It is a long walk away from the over 400,000 metric tons of rice previously imported into the country.
As Roy- Macauley said , the African rice value chain needs to be better integrated and be capable of competing with imported rice in terms of quality. He stressed that the goal to achieving rice self- sufficiency is not just about on farm assistance but also involves introducing rice varieties that fit the diverse African agro-ecologies, improve irrigation facilities and disseminate rice growing techniques to farmers.
The CBN and the Ministry of Agriculture must continue this partnership and sustain the various initiatives to reposition the entire Agric sector. The efforts that created the rice revolution must be extended to other agriculture commodities if Nigeria is to achieve self-sufficiency in food production. These targeted schemes and programmes for the real sector development also have potentials for employment generation, wealth creation and poverty reduction.
It has been noted that a nation can hardly sustain its economic growth without a strong agricultural base and the reasons are obvious. Agriculture provides food, raw materials and employment and it is bandied that agriculture is the largest provider of employment, and it is estimated that more than 65 per cent of industries and business activities are supported by agriculture at primary and secondary levels.
Agriculture is also important in international trade; it helps to reduce balance of trade, reduce import, increase export, generate foreign exchange, impacts transportation, help to improve standard of living of the people. Many advanced economies developed on the back of agriculture.
Emefiele must remain focused on his mission at the CBN. Although his tenure, which is renewable, expires June this year, what he started must not be allowed to fizzle out. It is critical that we sustain the momentum.
Ms. Ating wrote this piece from Abuja