By Lawal Divinefavour
The aftermath of Nigeria’s land border closure in August 2019 was greeted with wide range of applause together with backlash from all corners of the country on the President and the presidency. This is justifiably. Supporters of the policy and those not predisposed to the policy argue in different directions as expected. Both argument must be recognized. The question is whose argument(s) outweighs the other?
The Federal Government cited the move as part of an effort to tackle smuggling and corruptions associated with it, but also to spur the domestic agricultural industry, especially the production of rice locally.
The development has had a multiplying ripple effect across neighboring countries and beyond, with Benin being the worst hit. Factories and traders are reportedly struggling to import key raw materials and having to use other alternative routes for their exports.
However, the bid to halt rice smuggling, chiefly stems from a long-running effort by President Muhammadu Buhari to increase domestic Nigerian food production and support Nigerian farmers.
Although, the blockage of smuggled goods through the borders did stop to the barest minimum the activities of smugglers and also boosted government revenues owing largely to duties being collected on the increased volume of goods entering the country through the ports in the country, it however brought about unwelcome economic implications and rude shock on the Nigerian populace. The price of rice rose sharply by over 100% and the brunt of that was and is still being endured by the consumers. A 50kg of rice now costs within the range of N24,000 – N25,000 nearly as much as double the amount before the border was closed.
Critics argue that demand surpasses domestic production of rice in the country, necessitating a sustained cross-border trade with Nigeria’s neighbours and moreover the border closure is inconsistent with Nigeria’s multilateral commitments with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to which Nigeria belongs and in which it holds laudable political and economic influence.
Critics also pointed out that Nigeria’s unilateral action comes two months after it reluctantly signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which aims to remove barriers to trade and promote the free flow of goods, services and people across the continent.
Supporters of the policy have pointed out that rice farmers in the country now ‘smile to the bank’ as a result of the land border closure, the Minister for State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mustapha Shehuri stated that impressive sales have been recorded by farmers and the closure has created more jobs, not only in rice production but also livestock and other commodities.
Apart from the closure of the borders, which the minister says has benefitted the rice farmers, the federal government has also implemented major policies to favour local production of rice, Nigeria’s major staple food. Reports also has it that the government’s Anchor Borrowers Programme, has contributed to local rice production.
According to the Central Bank of Nigeria, “the programme thrust of the Anchor Borrowers Programme is provision of farm inputs in kind and cash (for farm labour) to smallholder farmers to boost production of farm commodities, stabilise inputs supply to agro-processors and address the country’s negative balance of payments on food.” The programme, among other things, is expected to increase banks’ financing to the agriculture sector and to create a new generation of farmers as well as to boost employment.
Since the closure, locally produced rice is now the readily available alternative of many, as the price of available foreign rice has peaked from the range of N14, 500 to between N23, 000 and N25, 000. Attention has now shifted to the local rice. Subsequently, the increased patronage has led to increase in price. Today, a 50kg bag of local rice sells for about N20, 500 to N25,000 depending on the choice of consumers, as local rices have been discovered to have varieties, from the partly kept (largely stony) to the well processed ones (less stony). According to the National President, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Aminu Goronyo, the rice industry has gained over N52.21b since the border closure.
Be that as it may, statistics has shown that only about 57% of the 6.7 million metric tonnes of rice consumed in Nigeria annually is locally produced, translating to a supply deficit of about 3 million metric tonnes. The implication of this is that, the country still falls short of meeting local demand despite the potential for possible self-reliance and self-sustainance in the not too distant future, the fact remains that the government needs to put much in place to bridge the mechanisation gap in rice production through production of rice mills, and provision of low cost grants to local farmers.
With this in place, Nigeria’s road to economic prosperity in Agriculture can only be halted by Nigeria herself.