This should not be seen as trying to make comparison, because around the world, countries work towards striking a balance in their trade; between imports and exports. Whereas in this case, we may not immediately be talking about exporting rice, but the idea of walking the talk of farming to produce rice locally may just be a dream every Nigerian would want to see materialised.
If on the long run the nation is able to farm on rice to achieve commercial production to meet local demand, then the government’s policy concerning discouraging importation of rice would just have become laudable.
This came on the heels of the disclosure recently by the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, that investors could now look forward to the possibility of profitable investment in rice production in the country.
With the known fact that rice is Nigeria’s largest staple food, policy on its importation had suffered several criticisms. While different groups of people thought that for the purpose of having food on the tables of Nigerians importation of rice should be left open as liberal as possible, several others on the economic front had thought differently.
But, Dr. Adesina, while giving the information on the government’s reforms to ensure self-sustainability to a great extent in the production of rice, said government had invested so much in making available, high yield seedlings for farmers across the small, medium and large scale producers.
He noted that investment into the local rice production would be quite profitable considering that virtually every household in Nigeria’s population consume rice and by his information, Nigeria would be spending about 35 billion dollars for rice importation if local production is not encouraged and sustained.
This might just explain why neighbouring West African countries import so much rice even with their small population, bearing in mind the calculated efforts they make to smuggle the rice into Nigeria.
It can also be recalled that while government’s policy of 100 per cent duty on rice importation caused rice vessels to patronise ports other than those in Nigeria, Nigerians did not stop eating the various imported brands of rice, which translated to the fact that the product was made available even if it was through means that ended up hurting Nigeria’s economy.
While the revenue generated from rice duty by the Nigeria Customs Service, Apapa Area Command dropped drastically to an almost insignificant portion of revenue collected in January 2013, the available quantity of rice did not dwindle. Although the government explained reasons for the strategy, but the public did not take it easy with that explanation. Many people thought that it would only be rationale to achieve the goal of local rice production in commercial quantity by a gradual process, which should be from one phase to another.
With over 5 million rice farmers, as disclosed by the minister, and with the expression of interest by some businessmen to invest in the sector, there certainly will be a huge opening to grow the rice farming sector to the benefit of the nation’s economy.
One more important point; as a staple food, the locally-produced rice must be affordable by all if it would achieve the desired results. This is so noted because the existing local brands of rice from Ofada and Abakiliki are more expensive in the open market when compared to the imported brands.