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Investment without impact: Rethinking Nigeria’s rice revolution

02 May 2024

Over the past decade, Nigeria has embarked on an ambitious journey, investing a staggering N1.08 trillion in a bid to revolutionise its rice production sector. Envisioned as the catalyst for achieving rice self-sufficiency, these interventions were hailed as the beacon of hope for a nation eager to reduce its dependence on rice imports and bolster domestic agricultural production. However, amidst the fanfare and lofty aspirations, reality paints a starkly different picture. Despite the monumental financial injections and concerted efforts, Nigeria remains entangled in a web of challenges, its dream of rice self-sufficiency slipping further from its grasp with each passing year. In this editorial, we delve into the labyrinth of factors that have thwarted Nigeria’s quest for significant progress despite its substantial investment in rice production interventions.

Despite claims of self-sufficiency in rice production, Nigeria’s rice milling industry continues to face shortages of locally sourced paddies, a critical ingredient for sustaining operations. This shortage stems from a combination of factors, including inadequate infrastructure for paddy storage and transportation, inconsistent government policies, and insufficient support for small-scale farmers. As a result, millers are left with no choice but to resort to importing paddies from neighbouring countries to meet the demands of a growing population. The closure of land borders with Niger, ostensibly aimed at curbing smuggling activities, further exacerbated this situation by cutting off a crucial source of imported paddies.

Q: “While there has been a significant expansion in the number of rice mills and milling capacity in Nigeria over the past decade, actual rice yields per hectare remain alarmingly low compared to other African countries.”

This move laid bare the industry’s long-standing dependence on imported paddies and underscored the fragility of Nigeria’s purported rice self-sufficiency. Additionally, it highlighted the need for a comprehensive strategy to address the structural deficiencies plaguing the rice value chain and foster a more resilient and sustainable domestic production system.

The Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), heralded as a game-changer in Nigeria’s rice revolution, initially showed promise by attracting investments and attention to the industry. However, as the intervention became politicised, genuine farmers were sidelined, and the quality of inputs dwindled. Consequently, the anticipated gains failed to materialise, highlighting the need for sustained and unbiased support for agricultural initiatives.

Various formidable foes stand in the path of Nigeria’s rice sufficiency drive, casting shadows of uncertainty over the nation’s agricultural aspirations. Insecurity, a relentless spectre haunting many regions, has not only disrupted the lives of farmers but also cast doubt on the safety of agricultural investments. Climate change, with its capricious temperament, wreaks havoc on farmlands, unleashing floods and droughts with alarming frequency. These climate-induced disasters not only destroy crops but also sow seeds of despair among farmers, who struggle to recover from each devastating blow. Additionally, the soaring prices of inputs, from seeds to fertilisers, have rendered agricultural pursuits financially untenable for many.

In Kebbi State, once hailed as a bastion of rice production, farmers grapple with the harsh reality of dwindling resources and scant government support, leading to a retreat from the fields and a faltering of the rice sufficiency dream. As these challenges converge like storm clouds on the horizon, the task of boosting domestic rice production grows ever more daunting, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to safeguard Nigeria’s food security.

While there has been a significant expansion in the number of rice mills and milling capacity in Nigeria over the past decade, actual rice yields per hectare remain alarmingly low compared to other African countries. Despite the influx of investments, mechanisation and technological advancements in rice cultivation have not seen substantial improvements, perpetuating the country’s low productivity levels.

The recent decision by the Central Bank of Nigeria to lift restrictions on rice imports underscores a concerning trend. In just the first two months of 2024, Nigeria imported a staggering 265 metric tonnes of rice, marking a stark departure from the zero imports recorded in the same period the previous year. This reversal not only undermines the goal of achieving self-sufficiency but also raises questions about the efficacy of past interventions.

Nigeria’s experience with rice production interventions serves as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of policy implementation without adequate oversight and long-term planning. Despite significant financial investments, the country continues to grapple with persistent challenges that have hampered its quest for rice self-sufficiency. Moving forward, there is an urgent need for increased transparency and accountability in programme execution.

Collaborative efforts that prioritise genuine farmer engagement through training and support services are crucial. By empowering farmers with knowledge and resources, we can encourage sustainable agricultural practices that not only boost rice production but also safeguard the environment for future generations.

Only through a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of low productivity can we ensure food security for all Nigerians. This means tackling issues like poor infrastructure, limited access to credit, and inefficient distribution channels.

By learning from past missteps and implementing well-rounded strategies, Nigeria can finally turn the tide and achieve self-sufficiency in rice production.

Source : businessday