The Muhammadu Buhari administration has always maintained that its ‘rice revolution’ has made the nation attain food sufficiency, especially in rice production.
For far too long, the government has claimed that the Anchor Borrowers’ Program, its flagship agriculture program, has reduced the nation’s dependence on importation of rice.
Responding to a question on the state of the economy in an interview with ThisDay/Arise TV last week, Mr Buhari restated the same claim on how reduced importation figures are a sign of surge in local production and consumption of rice.
In the interview published on Monday, which is by far, his most revealing interaction with the local media after his first and only media chat held shortly after he was sworn-in in 2015, Mr Buhari again echoed the sentiment of the government that its administration has done well in rice production.
“I am sure you know that we virtually achieved food security,” the president said. “And you, especially you who are responsible for informing the people of Nigeria, you have failed, in my own opinion, to fully appreciate the luck we have and what we did in agriculture.”
He later spoke on the intervention in fertilizer, saying that the government partnered Morocco and it has made locally produced fertilizer available to farmers at cheap prices.
He attributed the nation’s ‘food sufficiency’ to the ABP intervention anchored by the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Ministry of Agriculture. He explained that farmers were given soft loans without interest and that impacted on the nation’s local production and reduced importation in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
“We don’t import rice, virtually, anymore. We don’t import rice. We have stopped importing rice and we are even exporting grains,” the president said. “We made very, very large stride in agriculture.”
Last December, the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, made a similar claim at the Vice Presidential Debate, when he said Nigeria produces 90 per cent of the rice it consumes.
Earlier in March, Audu Ogbe, minister of agriculture, made a similar claim, when he said Thailand accused Nigeria of being responsible for the collapse of its seven rice mills, following the drastic fall in rice importation from the country. That claim was faulted by the diplomat.
For Messrs Buhari, Osinbajo and Ogbeh, one thing is common: they have attributed the nation’s reduced rice importation figures to the effectiveness of the government’s ‘rice revolution’. But how true is this claim?
CLAIM 1: Nigeria’s rice importation figures have slumped
According to the Central Bank of Nigeria, the volume of rice importation into Nigeria (in metric tonnes) declined drastically in 2018. Isaac Okorafor, CBN’s spokesperson, said the figures obtained from India and Thailand, (two dominant rice exporters to Nigeria) indicated that as at September, Thailand had so far, exported about 5,161 metric tonnes of rice to Nigeria, while India sold only 426 as at July.
The CBN’s spokesperson attributed the reduction to concerted efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the interventions of the CBN, adding that the bank had not allocated any foreign exchange for the importation of rice this year.
PREMIUM TIMES’ independent check revealed that in 2016, about 58,260MT of rice was imported into Nigeria from Thailand, according to the Thai Rice Exporters Association.
This represents a huge reduction when compared to about 805,765 MT recorded in 2015. By November 2017, the figure reduced to 23,192 MT and between January and November 2018, the figure had crashed to 6,277 MT.
Within the years, the Thai Exporters statistics show that there had been a 72.9 per cent reduction in quantity of export to Nigeria while the export value had also crashed by 72.2 per cent. This, clearly, confirms that there has been reduction in Nigeria’s rice import figures.
CLAIM 2: Importation figures crashed because of local production, consumption
On the flipside, as Nigeria’s importation figures slide downward, neighbouring Benin Republic has seen its export figures skyrocket exponentially, within the same years.
According to the Thai Import statistics, from 805,765 MT in 2015, Benin Republic has seen import figures rise to 1,650,237 MT in 2017 and 1,487,188 MT between January and November 2018.
Nigerian borders are notoriously porous and several reports have established how numerous goods, including rice, find their way into the country through the borders, especially the ones adjoining Benin Republic.
In November 2016, the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Hameed Ali, said the nation’s boarders were porous because of their interconnectivity with adjoining nations, adding that there was no line demarcating Nigeria from its neighbours.
Similarly, Mr Ogbeh once acknowledged the illegal importation of rice and other products into the country through the land borders. “Too much rice, too much fake fertiliser is still coming across the borders into this country in spite of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) we have with them they are not listening,” the minister said in March 2018.
More importantly, Benin Republic consumes mostly white rice and most of its par-boiled rice imports, up to 30,000 containers per year, are routed via transit shipments through Niger to the northwest of Nigeria, according to HAS Rice, a leading exporter in Pakistan.
Between Tuesday and Thursday, PREMIUM TIMES monitored activities in Sango and Owode markets, two major rice hubs in South Western Nigerian with border communities stretching through the notorious Owode-Idiroko road. The road is an international lane linking Nigeria and Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, among other countries.
Multiple traders at the markets confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that the bags of parboiled rice being transported from the markets are smuggled into Nigeria from neighbouring countries. In three days, PREMIUM TIMES observed that an average of two commercial vehicles (Danfo) conveyed bags of rice from the markets to Agege and Alimoso through Iyana-Ipaja, arguably two of Lagos’ most populated areas. Checks revealed that while some were produced in Thailand, others were produced in Pakistan.
The locally produced LAKE rice is rarely available, except during festive periods.
Last December, Nigerians lamented its unavailability and were forced to consume foreign alternative.
Since the CBN has declined giving out Forex for importation of rice, the foreign alternative are largely smuggled into the country through the borders in Ogun, Lagos, Katsina, among other places.
The claim that Nigeria’s rice import figures have crashed is TRUE.
The claim that the crash was triggered by surge in local production and consumption is at best, INCONCLUSIVE––and at worst, FALSE.
This is because, smuggling and other illegal activities, rather than a surge in local production, have sustained local consumption of rice among Nigerians.