I will try as much as possible to ensure this article does not reflect sentiment over any political party, religious, or tribe. My view is purely from the perspective of an Agribusiness Consultant and a Soil Scientist. I’m writing this as a concern Nigerian passionate about the development of my country.
In the last few weeks now, there have been mix reaction from Nigerians over the closure of our border by the federal government. However, I was eager to know why the federal government will take such action at this critical period in our great country that is currently battling with food security and low production of some locally produced food.
While searching the internet, I saw a news on ThePunchNews Paper, titled ‘Why FG closed borders —CG Customs,’ published September 26, 2019. According to the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, retired Col. Hameed Ali, he stated that the closure of Nigeria’s borders by Federal Government was undertaken to strengthen the nation’s security and protect its economic interests. He further explained that the motive behind the closure was the secure our country, the well-being of the people and, our economy.
A critical analysis of this action from the economic perspective and the impact on agricultural sector will be carefully done in this article.
First of all, the border closure is not a surprise to me, because I see it as a continuation of a policy that the president began when he came into office in 2015. He banned the use of foreign exchange to import dozens of items including the staple food, rice. Without any sentiment, domestic rice production has increased since 2015. Although, this policy suffered some challenges then, which was problem of insecurity in the country’s food-producing areas (Insurgent in the Northeast part of Nigeria). This led to increase in food prices then.
Fast forward to the current policy (border closure) and the imminent effect. Since 2015, Nigeria have been increasing the production rate of basic food commodities such as sugar, wheat flour, fish, milk, palm oil, pork, beef, and poultry.
From 2015 to 2019, that’s 4 years. Do you know that our domestic farmers have not been able to satisfy the demand of country’s 200 million people.
Can you see why we still import foods?
The same thing also applies to rice production and importation.
According to figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, rice production in Nigeria has increased from an annual average of 7.1 million tonnes between 2013 and 2017 to 8.9 million tonnes in 2018.
Is that not impressive?. 2013 to 2018, that’s 5 years. Yet, we still have cases or rice importation because we need to feed our 200 million people. Rice is a staple food in Nigeria consumes daily by millions of Nigeria.
From the economic perspective and for the love of the nation, restricting food importation through border closure is a way to boost local production, but this should be a gradual process.
Do you know why?
Our country cannot yet meet domestic demand for food commodities. And if this persists, the policy risk increasing food prices thereby making life miserable for average Nigerians.
Take it or leave, do you know that closing the border and importation of staple food like rice for the next 5 years will not solve the problem of food security, but will only compound more sufferings on the life of average Nigerian.
If the federal government close the border for 5 years, our output for the whole 5 years cannot sustain our 200 million people for one year.
As of September 2019, the foreign rice (imported rice) is now scarce, but local rice is available at N20,000 against the previous price (N15,000). Since local rice production or supply is low, it will result in price increase.
The current border closure and restriction on importation is a good development and policy but it’s like putting the cart before the horse. Before policy like is fully implemented, there is a need to address some internal issues.
For instance, rice production must also be strengthened in the southwest part of the country in states like Ondo, Ekiti, Oyo, etc. The government spent $165m subsidizing rice production in November last year. Most of this fund goes to the production of rice in the northern states.
From my experience as an Agribusiness Consultant and a farmer, I’ve come to realize that securing agricultural loan or accessing farm inputs is easy in the Northern part of the country compared to the southern region.
Various scheme organized by the federal government to assist farmers in Nigeria often fails in the southwest part of this nation.
Loan approval is done or gotten base on WHO KNOWS WHO.
Also the attitudinal problem of people towards any financial grant from Federal Government
Considering the vegetation cover in Southwest part of the country (Tropical Rainforest), cost of opening a virgin land is very expensive, farm machinery such tractor, bulldozer are not readily available. And most tractors currently in the state ministry of Agriculture or local government are not in good working condition as a result of poor maintenance culture.
Before we can think of stopping the importation of staple food like rice or closing the border, all these issues need to be carefully reviewed and addressed. Without addressing this problem, increasing local rice production of the federal government will remain a paper or theory objective.
Finally, to meet local demand, right investment has to be made in production, milling, and grading (especially in the production of excellent quality rice that can replace imported rice), marketing, road infrastructure, etc.
Farm inputs (fertilizers, improved quality seeds, pesticides etc.) should be heavily subsidized by the government at different levels as timely access to inputs can significantly raise the level of production and also lead to an increase in the quantity and quality of yield.