Fear of food insecurity grips Nigerians
Good prices are rising– no thanks to insecurity and lack of financial muscle by many Nigerians.
For instance, rice has hit record N12,500 per bag, triggering a panic among consumers.
The Nation learnt the increase in prices of other staple products such as fish, bread, meat, cereals, chicken, yam, onions, beans, vegetable oil, tomatoes, groundnut oil and others are expected to rise as the insurgency in some parts of the North affects traders. .
In September, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has warned that Sahel states in the North are faced with severe food insecurity. The release mentions, “Poor families have used up their food stocks and are facing high food prices awaiting the next harvest.”
Alarmingly, it points out that over 1.4 million children in the region are at risk of severe malnutrition in 2013.
In certain products regrettably, the country’s ambitious Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) seems to have been hijacked by unscrupulous operators across the country’s borders.
Ssince the implementation of high tariffs for rice importation, legal imports have come to a standstill, creating a massive demand from staple consumers. In the absence of local paddy production to meet this demand, smugglers have been having a field day, moving in rice through the borders.
The common routes include Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Benin where there are zero or negligible duties.
Reports said more than 2.5 million tonnes of rice was imported into these countries since Nigeria’s implementation of the new tariffs at 110 per cent. As a result, the Federal Government and terminal operators are losing billions of naira in unpaid Customs duty and levies, as well as handling charges. The Deputy Comptroller General of Customs (DCG) in charge of Enforcement, SakaYinusa recently said the importation should be through approved seaports to ensure adequate payment of import duties, levies and other charges. He disclosed that Nigeria loses an estimated N1 billion on contraband rice daily, which translates to N356 billion yearly.
A report suggests that the rampant smuggling further compounded the woes of local rice millers operating in a high cost environment – devoid of infrastructure such as potable water, power and good road networks – with sparse funding.
The nation is also reeling from the severe impact caused by the Boko Haram activities. The Chairman, Borno State Farmers Association, MuhammedNamadi, said “hundreds of farmers have been killed or forced to abandon rice and other crops ready for harvesting or just planted.”
He spoke in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital and a former insurgent stronghold. Without immediate relief, farmers in Borno, who already live with abject poverty, insecurity and isolation, could also face widespread hunger.
He said: “We have suffered a great deal as farmers in the last three years. Many young and old farmers have been forced to leave their farms.”
Nearly 20,000 farmers have been driven from their land by both the insurgency and the military crackdown since President Goodluck Jonathan in May declared a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. Jonathan is seeking an extension of the emergency.
In June, the Chad Basin Development Authority reported that 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) of rice paddies had been abandoned at the peak of harvesting season.Large-scale investments made into the farming and milling industries by private businesses are also in jeopardy, following Nigeria Customs Service ’ inability to protect the industry from the vagaries of smugglers. Small farmers consume most of the paddy produced in the nation on a sustenance basis.
The new agricultural policy that was aimed at protecting the local rice industry interests seems now to be helping smugglers make a fortune. The millers face unfair competition from smugglers, making their large investments unviable and effectively stalling any new expansion plans in the country.
Indian parboiled rice costs about $430 per MT and Thailand rice is around $550 per MT. Comparatively, rice paddy in Kano is at a high $480 per MT, while in other places, such as Ebonyi, it is at a prohibitive $ 540 per MT. The price of local finished rice is around N16,000 per 50kg, whereas the imported rice is sold at an affordable N 8,000 per Kg, until the tariffs were increased significantly.
The Managing Director, Attajiri Rice Mill Sokoto, Alhaji NuraAttajiri, said: “Most of the people that collect agricultural loans from government for paddy rice production are not genuine farmers. I strongly believe that it will take some time for Nigerian farmers to meet local demand and this can be achieved only if government is determined to put in mechanisms to ensure that only genuine farmers are empowered.”
The President, Rice Distributors Association of Nigeria (RIDAN), Esther Olufunmilayo, urged government to review the impact of its policy on the economy, arguing that tariff hike imposition without tangible transformation of the local rice value chain defeats government’s rice self-sufficiency goal.