End­ing rice im­ports in two years

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

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.

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