Nigeria’s long road to food security

Disturbed by the trend of increasing number of people living in extreme poverty which began in 2013, former President Muhammadu Buhari quickly moved into action by strategically putting in place two key policies of a national social investment programme and a national food security plan to boost farming activities by introducing the Anchor Borrower’s programme aimed at making it easier for farmers to grow more food and producers to process the farm produce.

The Global Food Security Index, GFSI, ranking of Nigeria has been on the increase since 2013 and regrettably the then national government did nothing to address the challenge.

Nigeria is facing the challenge of food insecurity, especially in the North-east and North-central states where conflicts/insurgency, kidnapping, armed banditry, cattle rustling and weather extremes are aggravating the food insecurity situation. This therefore necessities that the Nigerian government redoubles efforts at improving food production and processing towards food security across the states and also boost exports.

The national food security programme’s overall vision of the intervention programme is: “To ensure sustainable Access, Availability and Affordability of quality food to all Nigerians and to be a significant net provider of food to the global community”.

The federal government under PMB had, in August 2019, ordered a closure of the country’s land borders over illegal importation of drugs, arms and agricultural products into Nigeria from neighbouring West African countries.

In December 2020, Buhari reviewed his order and compassionately ordered the reopening of four land borders.

One can vividly recall that former President Buhari had explained that the closure of the country’s borders for over one year had paid off as it helped Nigeria “tremendously”.

Months after the reopening, the President regrettably expressed concern that the closure of the borders failed to stop arms smuggling into Nigeria.

However, a motion, sponsored by 11 members of the house of Representatives in June 2021, seeking to reopen all the borders was voted against at the green chamber.

It’s undisputable that Femi Adesina, PMB’s ex SSA media had noted that the president said the decision to close the country’s borders was to encourage farmers, “and eat what we grow” rather than rely on importation of food items and other essentials of life that can be sourced locally.

“People went back to the land, and this helped us tremendously. We made fertilisers available, resuscitated dams, and it all paid off handsomely,” Buhari said.

Otherwise, with about 200 million people, we would have been in trouble when COVID-19 struck, and affected the economy if not for the foresight and strategic interventions of the PMB administration.

As the borders remain closed, rice mills of various shapes and sizes opened everywhere.

Following the closure of Nigerian land borders in August this year, hundreds of small, medium and large scale rice mills have sprung up, while those that were moribund were activated.

Many large producers like Olam Nigeria, Umza Rice, Popular Farms Rice Mill, WACOT Rice Mill, Ebonyi Rice Mill all increased their production capacities to meet the existing internal demand.

Dangote Group also joined the group by establishing a multi-billion naira rice processing mill in Hadin, Jigawa state with the capacity to process 16 metric tons of paddy rice per hour when completed.

The closure of the borders had opened the space for the country to register more farmers, mills, producers and processors.

Nigeria’s rice milling capacity has hit 3m metric tons from more than 100 integrated mills between January and February 2022.

Mention must be made of the contribution of PMB’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, a brainchild of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, as a single-digit loan intervention scheme aimed at boosting the agricultural sector of the economy.

The CBN disbursed almost N1 trillion to farmers across the country under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, ABP, of the PMB administration.

Most Nigerians were taken aback with the news of lifting the ban on 43 items imposed by the PMB administration by the new CBN Governor. According to CBN, the action will ‘boost liquidity in the Nigerian Foreign Exchange Market’.

I strongly believe that the unbanning of the importation of 43 items by the
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration after the huge investment made in rice production and processing in-country will undoubtedly negatively unsettle rice farmers, millers, and all those in its long value chain.

Nigerian and foreign investors who spent over USD3.4 billion establishing nearly 100 integrated rice processing mills will feel let down if Nigeria is flooded with imported rice.

With the efforts of farmers and millers Nigeria has reportedly met over 90 percent demand for processed rice. They have also made Nigeria Africa’s number one paddy and processed rice producer. This huge contribution to food security could now be lost with this unfriendly decision of the CBN.

A Statista report says that “the quantity of milled rice produced in Nigeria in 2022 was 5.4 million metric tons. Between 2010 and 2021, milled rice production in the country generally increased. The largest growth in output was recorded in 2010 when the crop volume reached a 26 percent increase.”

The huge rice farms, large, small and micro and cottage rice processing mills, warehouses and fleet of freight trucks and all the thousands of jobs therein may become idle if imported rice pushed out the homegrown version off the market.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO, said in a 2019 report that rice is the second most important staple food in Nigeria accounting for 10.5 percent of the average caloric intake, surpassed only by cassava and its products. For this reason, the rice eaten by Nigerians should be fresh, locally produced and free of preservatives which experts have said are injurious to health.

Although more cassava, millet, sorghum, yam, potatoes and maize, all vital staples, are produced in Nigeria than rice, its consumption cuts across the economic and social strata of the society. That is why whenever its price goes up, the media reflects popular outcry.

It is certain that producers and processors in other agro-allied industries, such as vegetable and palm oil millers, will equally feel the negative impact of the policy.

Despite all these, the PBAT administration can still do the needful by withdrawing the CBN ill timed decision to unban 43 items, mostly food from export.

Indeed, as it is now, PBAT administration has taken the longest road to ensuring food security for the country. A stich in time saves nine.

Ilallah writers from Abuja via