Ending rice imports in two years
We heard from official quarters last week that the Federal Government has plans to stop the importation of rice into this country in the next two years. Zamfara State Governor and Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari disclosed this plan when he spoke to reporters after a joint meeting held at the State House, Abuja with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, state governors, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN] Godwin Emefiele as well as permanent secretaries of various federal ministries.
Yari said, “The meeting was on the new policy on agriculture and food sustainability. We discussed how we can boost rice production in Nigeria and start thinking about how we are going to put policy in place on how rice importation will be banned in the country. We have the potential human resources and arable land to grow rice. So, in the next two years, we will not need to bring rice from outside Nigeria. We are going to ban it. It is only in Nigeria, a country of millions of people, that there is no food security.”
If ever there is a worthwhile and urgent national development goal, this is it. Rice has grown steadily over the last 40 years to become the most important staple food in Nigeria. That would have been all okay if the country had maintained the self sufficiency in rice production that we had from pre-colonial times until right into the 1970s. However, with the phenomenal increase in the demand for it came a massive culture of importing Thai parboiled and other foreign rice products. It costs this country billions of dollars a year to import rice, opening us up to food insecurity blackmail from foreign nations. All these when the country has the land, the climate and the manpower to produce enough rice not only to feed Nigerians but to export it as well. So, even though the policy goal announced by Governor Yari is highly welcome, we cannot but recall that almost every Nigerian government in the last 40 years had announced a similar intention, which needless to say was never realized. What are the factors on the ground right now to make us optimistic that at last the goal is about to be realized within two years, as Yari said?
Even though Yari is the chairman of the governors’ forum, it will be good if this policy is restated by a senior official of the Federal Government such as the president, vice president or the Agriculture Minister, when we have one. The Federal Government is the one that can drive this policy and mobilize all other agencies, state governments and the private sector to key into it. That is because a whole gamut of political, fiscal, security, crop, research, extension and storage measures must be put in place and strictly enforced in order to realize this laudable goal.
Right now, the Federal Government has in place a rice import policy with import quotas and a double tariff that is officially meant to encourage value addition by favouring rice millers over rice traders. In reality, the policy is a poorly thought out one that defeats its very purpose by allowing companies with rice milling capacity to import finished rice, not husky brown rice that requires milling, at concessionary tariff rates. Former Customs Comptroller General Dikko Abdullahi Inde wrote several memos to the former Jonathan regime drawing attention to this anomaly but he was roundly ignored.
The first task for the Buhari regime in this direction therefore is to correct this anomaly and put in place import tariff incentives that encourage millers to use their capacity to mill husky brown rice. They should also be encouraged, in fact compelled to move further and replace all imported husky brown rice with locally produced one. Of course that will require a range of other policy measures by all the tiers of government but we are confident that it can be done with the necessary political will. In any case, Nigeria has little choice because with the collapse of oil prices and the drastic fall in the country’s foreign exchange earnings, the era of carefree rice imports will soon be over whether we plan for it or not. That is why we are excited by the goal announced by Yari and we expect the authorities to fulfill this pledge, for once, of ending rice imports within two years.