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Tinubu’s food security emergency and boosting rice production

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Tinubu’s food security emergency and boosting rice production


About two weeks ago, the Federal Government took a bold step towards ensuring that hunger does not take over the land. In that regard, it declared a state of emergency on food security. The move was to check looming food shortage, occasioned by low agricultural production largely fuelled by insecurity in the land.

Mr Dele Alake, the Special Adviser to President Bola Tinubu on Special Duties, Communication and Strategy was the government official that dropped the ‘bombshell’ of the national emergency on food security. The presidential aide, now a ministerial nominee, at a news conference said the decision came in response to inflation and the inability of citizens to afford basic food items.

President Tinubu, according to Alake, had already ordered that all matters pertaining to food and water availability and affordability be included within the scope of the National Security Council. He equally ordered the immediate release of fertilisers and grains to farmers and households to mitigate the effects of the fuel subsidy removal.

Alake said the Tinubu government would deploy savings from the subsidy phase-out to revamp the agricultural sector in coming weeks. “We shall create and support a national commodity exchange board that will review and continuously assess food prices as well as maintain [the] strategic food reserve that will be used as [a] price stabilisation mechanism for critical grains and other food items,” he said.

The president’s spokesperson also said authorities would boost the security architecture to protect farmers. He said the ministries of Agriculture and Water Resources would work together to guarantee irrigation for farmers to produce food all-year round. Without mincing words, the state of emergency on Nigeria’s food security is the best thing that could happen to our country now.

President Tinubu has taken a step in the right direction towards restoring the glory of the country’s agricultural sector. It is regrettable that a sector that was once the mainstay of Africa’s largest economy some few decades ago is now gasping for breath.

From 1960 to 1969, Nigeria’s agro sector was in a league of its own. As a lucrative sector, it accounted for an average of 57 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and generated 64.5 percent of export earnings in the decade Nigeria gained its independence. Then things began to fall apart. The sector’s contribution to the GDP and export earnings steadily declined from 1970. And this was because Nigeria’s focus shifted to petroleum exploration.

President Tinubu has the capacity to provide a therapy for our fragile economy.  However, he should go beyond declaring a national emergency on the country’s food security.

He should accord priority attention to maximising Nigeria’s rice production capacity, among West African countries, if not entirely other nations of the world. Nigeria is the largest producer of rice (paddy) in Africa, with an average production volume of eight million metric tonnes. As of 2019, Nigeria ranked as the 14th largest producer of rice in the world. Again, as of 2019, Africa had a total production volume of 14.6 million metric tonnes. But it was Nigeria and Egypt that produced about 55 percent and 30 percent of the 14.6 million tonnes.

Ravaging insecurity, climate change, farmers’ low capital and floods among others are, however, threatening rice production in our dear country. But these factors are nothing to be compared with the reckless activities of rice smugglers. The Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN), in April this year, raised the alarm that illegal importation of rice into the country had persisted despite Federal Government’s interventions.

At a press conference, Andy Ekwelem, the director-general of RIPAN, noted that due to the fact that rice is a staple food for Nigerians, and because smugglers take rice to be an A-rated trade item, they brazenly smuggle millions of tonnes of packaged rice from India, Thailand and other southeast Asian countries into Nigeria through Benin Republic, Niger Republic and Cameroun.

If the lofty goals of Tinubu’s state of emergency declaration on food security must be achieved, the Federal Government must swiftly tackle rice smuggling in particular. The immediate past administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari formulated and implemented laudable policies to boost rice production in the country. The Tinubu administration should consolidate on that.

It should also design and launch, if necessary, novel and effective policies and actionable programmes that will further strengthen and sustain Nigeria’s rice industry. Equally germane is the need for the Federal Government to devise a new strategy of dealing with economic saboteurs – the dubious government and law enforcement officials – whose unpatriotic actions enhance the illegal importation of foreign rice into the country.

Aside from the huge investments we anticipate President Tinubu to make in the rice subsector, the Federal Government should begin to worry about pervasive insecurity and how it has affected farming generally in the country. The government should do all within its might to clip the wings of daredevil terrorists and bandits who are frustrating millions of Nigerian farmers, especially those in the North. Our farmers must return to their abandoned farmlands, and no tax or levy should be paid to any scoundrel. What we need is well-motivated security agencies to do the job they are constitutionally saddled with, which is to protect lives and property.

Another way the government can support Nigerian rice farmers in particular is by making small-interest loans accessible to them. They need more capital to quit subsistence rice farming for massive cultivation that will be enough for feeding teeming citizens and for export. The inherent challenges of the Anchor Borrowers and other existing agro-loan schemes should be addressed so that they can better serve their intended purposes.

Once again, the president should be commended for ordering the disbursement of fertilisers and grains to farmers and households to mitigate the effects of the petrol subsidy removal policy. But it should not just stop there. Our rice farmers, which this article has all along been empathising with, need rice seeds that are resistant to flooding and other harsh weather conditions. There is also the need for the government to encourage more research in foundation seeds production.

We also wish to plead with President Tinubu to encourage state governments to ease bottlenecks in the processes of acquiring land for large-scale farming of paddy rice. Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture should develop a viable mechanised services programme that would provide tractors and planters, threshers and dryers and strategic farm-silo/warehouses (to curb post-harvest losses), to small-holder rural farmers who form the bulk of rice producers in the country.

Nigerians and indeed stakeholders in the country’s rice industry will be pleased if all other necessary steps are taken by the government to enhance the aggressive production of rice locally. Consuming foreign rice brands that are harmful to the wellbeing and health of citizens should stop. President Tinubu’s state of emergency to tackle Nigeria’s food crisis is not the end point. It is the means to an end which is attaining prosperity for Nigeria’s agricultural sector in the long run.

 

  • Abbati and Garba are 300-Level Mass Communication students of Nile University, and can be reached via: safinabbati@icloud.com and karimakabirg@gmail.com

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