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Nigeria: That agric transformation may be

The National - October 30, 2015

I read with dismay on October 12, The Nation article titled: “Importers, traders laud govt for lifting ban on rice.”The decision to lift the ban, we are told, is at the prompting of the Comptroller-General of Customs. The article incredulously informs us that lifting the ban on imported rice was necessary because a minimum of 10,000 bags of rice is smuggled into Nigeria each day. The logic is that opening the floodgates to importation would bolster Customs revenues.
The following day, another national newspaper carried a similar article titled: “Brazilian investors beg FG to ease barriers on rice importation.” The article goes on to say that in a meeting with the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, the Brazilian Ambassador to Nigeria said he was keen on exporting rice to Nigeria.
First of all, this is the kind of meeting that should never have held in the first place. Sales of agricultural technology, yes! Rice importation, absolutely NOT.
I am totally scratching my head on this one. Only in Nigeria, does this type of thinking take place and only in Nigeria do we jettison well thought through policies on a whim. No wonder foreign investors tend to be ultra cautious before venturing into the Nigerian market. One would have expected Customs to enforce existing regulations and clamp down on illegal importation in order to safeguard the nation’s food security,  support rural and commercial farmers, and preserve Nigeria’s Foreign Exchange earnings.
I’m the grandson of a farmer, so I guess my biases are obvious. For the record, between 2011 and 2015, the former Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, and his team, spearheaded a major transformation across Nigeria’s agricultural value chain. Was it perfect? Nothing is. Was it unprecedented and enormously successful? Without a doubt!
We are a rice-eating nation. We consume approximately six million metric tonnes each year. Consequently, rice is life! In this sector alone, as with many other crops, Adesina provided millions of farmers with new high-yielding seeds at no cost, and fertiliser at 50 per cent subsidy.
The goal was to create access, empower rural farmers, massively boost productivity, and reduce import dependence. The end result of a highly creative and generous Growth Enhancement Support programme and an electronic wallet system was that under Adesina, Nigeria achieved 80 per cent self-sufficiency in paddy rice production.
Additionally, Adesina aggressively engaged the organised private sector and state governments, with the goal of up scaling commercial rice production. Kebbi, Nassarawa, Zamfara, Ebonyi, Ekiti and many other states, worked in tandem with the Federal Government to turn Nigeria’s high dependence on imported rice into self-sufficiency. In 2013, under a backward integration programme, investors who were engaged in farming and milling were allowed to import rice at reduced tariffs until 2017, when 100 per cent self-sufficiency was anticipated.
What do we now tell the millions of farmers who believed the previous Government’s mantra that Agriculture was Nigeria’s new black gold? What message have we just sent to the many young entrepreneurial University graduates who for a moment in time considered agriculture a viable pathway to wealth?
How do commercial farmers and millers recoup billions of Naira in investments in a market awash with inferior and cheap imported rice? By this singular act, have we not sent powerfully wrong signals to the agriculture sector? That it is a whole lot easier, more convenient, and certainly much more lucrative to import rice rather than engage in full scale production that has the potential to create more jobs than any other sector of the economy. My heart truly goes out to our farming community.
While I expected some agricultural policy flip flops, as is usually the case in our beloved Nigeria, I just did not expect it this soon. After all, lifting the ban on rice importation should not have been at the insistence of the Comptroller-General of Customs alone, but in concert with the Central Bank Governor, the soon-to-be appointed ministers of Agriculture and Finance, the highly respected Nigerian Agribusiness Group, and the Federal Executive Council. There is no other way to describe what has just happened than as an ‘agricultural coup d’├ętat! But alas this is Nigeria!
 
 – Dr Victor Oladokun is a
Media Strategist and CEO of 3D Global Consult
 

Agriculture

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