Nigeria: Desperate Efforts to Scuttle Buhari's Rice Revolution

20 November 2020

It is now an open secret that President Muhammadu Buhari is recording laudable and indelible marks in ensuring food security and self-sufficiency in local food production through the well-thought-out policy of Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) implemented by the Central Bank of Nigeria under the leadership of Mr Godwin Emefiele.

As the unprecedented horror of COVID-19 pandemic permeated all countries of the world, it left behind not only mass fatalities, but also hunger for those who are lucky to survive it. Thankfully, courtesy President Buhari's foresight and political will, Nigeria and Nigerians are not adversely affected by hunger and starvation as Nigerian farmers produce the food we eat when the entire world was in total lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19.

In May this year, the World Bank managing director for Development, Mari Pangestu, said developing countries in the world were facing food insecurity and malnutrition due to the coronavirus pandemic, drop in foreign exchange earnings, export restrictions and the breakdown of supply chains, among others.

The senior World Bank official, in remarks to an online meeting of agriculture ministers from the Group of 20 economies, said this underscored the need for global cooperation to avert food crises in the most vulnerable countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already triggered the deepest recession since the 1930s, according to experts. In addition to the pandemic, the worst locust plague in decades is decimating millions of hectares of crops as it spreads across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

Nigeria is lucky because despite the closure of borders, its citizens haven't starved, and local farmers across the country are smiling to the banks, courtesy of Buhari's agricultural revolution.

It is an open secret that in the last five years, Buhari led a revolution that saw millions of Nigerians, mostly farmers who are the majority, being salvaged from the pangs of poverty.

Buhari's rice revolution succeeded not because his predecessors had not tried. There are various agricultural policies over the years - all aimed at helping the Nigerian farmer. These include Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, and the Agricultural Implements and Mechanisation Services (AIMS). Most of these failed partly because they were elite-centric, which excluded real farmers who are in the rural areas.

Official statistics show that the ABP has added six million metric tons to rice supply in the country annually and created nearly six million direct jobs in a year. These jobs are restricted to only the production value chain of rice, and not the millions of other jobs created through the rice ecosystem.

The Buhari's ABP has so far saved Nigeria a whooping N369 billion rice import bill per annum. This breakthrough has saved the country the challenge of sourcing forex or devaluing our currency to finance this monstrous import bill. This policy is also transforming peasant farmers to millionaires, and burnishing our image internationally.

Notwithstanding these laudable efforts, there is no gainsaying the fact that some forces are not happy with the ongoing rice revolution. It is also not a secret that such unpatriotic forces are not happy with this administration's ban of rice import, and are therefore moving to sabotage it. The reason is not far-fetched. They are denied the billions they guzzle by defrauding Nigerians and Nigeria.

These saboteurs are hiding behind the cost of rice to mount pressure on the government to allow them resume rice imports into Nigeria. In April this year, the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, was reported as saying that "the Presidency was frowning at indiscriminate hike in the cost of local rice, saying it was dishonesty on the part of the dealers and unfair to consumers."

In the same vein, Nanono declared that the Buhari administration was under pressure to give waivers on rice importation. The truth is that some people across the country have created a cabal whose only stock in trade is to create price hike, thereby forcing the government to open our borders for them to resume their 'business as usual'.

These unscrupulous elements go to rice farms and buy up the paddy and hoard it instead of processing, simply to hike the prices. All this, to blackmail the president into allowing them to resume their unpatriotic imports of rice.

For instance, after failing to get waiver to import brown rice, the price of paddy was jerked up from N120,000 per ton to N175,000 per ton. This is simply to deepen the narrative that there is no paddy to process and the cost of rice will skyrocket.

Contrary to their false narratives that the price of rice is high because there is no enough paddy to process, the truth is that despite the massive flood that destroyed rice farms in the 2020 wet season, farmers have produced enough paddy that can feed our existing mills. The annual projection for 2020 is producing between 15 - 17 million metric tons of paddy. Against all odds, our farmers were able to produce between 12-13 million metric tons, which is enough to provide Nigeria's annual rice need of 6-7 million metric tons of processed rice.

What is more annoying is the fact that these same people who are now hell bent on sabotaging Buhari's rice revolution are the same people who collected billions of naira from the CBN under the out-growers and aggregators schemes. Why should they now be sabotaging the same government they are benefiting from is a case the security and intelligence agencies need to unravel and address properly.

Mr Ojukwu and Mr Ayu are president and secretary general of Movement for Rural Economy.

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