Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior disclosed on the 21st of December that the recent border reopening is coming with serious restrictions. Importation of rice, poultry, and some other items are still prohibited. This will be followed up with strict monitoring measures as technology will be deployed in four borders in the country. There will be documentation of movements in and out of the country to ensure that no one gains entrance with a hidden identity and brings in any unwholesome consignment.
The Federal Government, in August 2019, had ordered the closure of borders to help curb the smuggling of food items into the country, amongst other factors. This was also a means to achieve food sufficiency through local agriculture. Despite an increase in domestic rice production, there has been a surge in food prices. Although Nigeria produces the basic food commodities which include flour, fish, palm oil, pork, beef, and poultry, domestic farmers presently cannot satisfy the demand of over 200 million people. Official figures reveal that domestic rice production has increased since 2015. Figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization show that rice production has increased from an annual average of 7.1 million tonnes between 2013 and 2017 to 8.9 million tonnes in 2018.
The National Bureau of Statistics also revealed that there has been a surge in the prices of most food items despite local production. In November 2020, the average price of one dozen of agric egg, medium size (the price of one) increased year-on-year by 8.68 percent and month-on-month by 2.36 percent. The average price of 1kg of tomato increased year-on-year by 25.86% and month-on-month by 2.77%. The average price of 1kg of rice also increased year-on-year by 23.46 percent and month-on-month by 3.71 percent. The prevalence of rice smuggling suggests that Nigerian rice farmers have not been able to meet up with production capacity. This has led to criticisms over the government’s refusal to consider the low capacity of local farmers.
The Federal Government has expressed the need for the country to attain food sufficiency. This is a country’s ability to produce all its food without relying on imports. There have been various agricultural policies to ensure the success of the initiative. This includes the ban on rice imports, though it’s quite obvious that the country has not yet attained such a level. While trying to achieve food sufficiency, the government must consider the nation’s agricultural capacity, for the country not to fall into a state of food insecurity. This seems the present case with the rising increase in food prices and food scarcity.
No country in the world produces all its food, not even U.S. and China, two buoyant economies which are the topmost countries with the largest imports of food. The major issue is access to food for adequate nutrition levels. The people who are starving are not interested in ascertaining whether their rice is from Thailand or Nigeria. What matters is availability, affordability, and safety for consumption. This would also be of immense benefit to Nigeria as we have some of the highest food prices in the world. The World Economic Forum in 2015 stated that Nigeria spends about 56.4% of its household income on food. Importing food provides access to cheaper food items from other countries. Food imports also lead to sufficient supply when there are domestic shortages.
The FG’s policy on restriction of food imports is commendable. However, such a policy cannot be introduced in isolation. Idris Ayinde, an agricultural economist stated that curtailing food imports should be progressive as the country does not possess the capacity to meet domestic demand for most food commodities. He added that the policy could lead to a rise in food price inflation. In November 2018, the government spent $165m subsidizing rice production. This did not stop the purchase of smuggled rice into the country. Ryan Musser, Program Officer with the Center for International Private Enterprise disclosed that Nigeria cannot currently meet local demand for rice. He stated that ‘any attempts to simply curb imports will result in more smuggling and a spike in prices for local consumers, as immediate supply tries to meet demand’.
The Federal Government needs to weigh the country’s agricultural capacity. It has done well in investing in agriculture through various projects but it seems that the FG is unable to sustain the agriculture programmes due to banditry and insurgency in the country. Critics of the government have been quick to point that despite government efforts, local production is not sufficient to feed the nation. Nigeria must urgently tackle the issue of food security as the country continues to enlarge its agricultural capacity so that the importation of food items will no longer become a necessity.
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