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Rising rice price: FG’s response

Umar Aliyu Umar
24/08/2008

RECENTLY, the Federal Government, in reaction to the global syndrome of rice price rise, announced its okay of the importation of N80 billion worth of the item from Thailand. The government’s plan, announced after a meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at which the issue was discussed, is to vitiate the effects of the rising prices on the family expenditure on food, given that rice is a staple eaten largely by most Nigerians. In net, the imports would total about 500,000 metric tons.

The government has since released reserves from the national strategic silos spread across the country. Ordinarily, the government’s responses would attract the plausible explanation or rationalization – they are a short-term solution to the obviously difficult food situation in the country. While the unbundling of the strategic silos is important to meet the dire food needs of the citizenry in the short-term, the resort to massive importation would also augment this in the short and medium/terms.

These, in effect, would help Nigeria avert the kind of street crisis that the global food situation has caused in some countries, including Egypt and Cameroun. From this perspective, therefore, the government’s action is laudable, since it will help avert a negative security situation in the country. Politically it can also be said that the move casts the Yar’Adua administration in the mould of a responsive one. After all, is it not correct to hold that any structure that reacts, promptly, to the desires/prayer or even, needs, of the people it is meant to serve is responsive?

However, the import element of the government’s measure has far-reacting implications for us as a nation. Aside typifying our food insecurity, it shows our perchance for foreign food. Rice, from aeons, was never our staple food. But even when it became, our people, in those good old days, used to relish the nutritionally superior brands grown and processed in Nigeria – The Ubuaja (Ozigolo) variety; the Obior brand, the Abakaliki type; the Agbede/Warrake/Auchi genre, etc. Later, for want of adequate patronage, the local growers parked up business.

Foreign brands, admittedly lower in nutritional value, took over and have since remained our undoing. The self harm done to us and our economy by this terrible value system is not only the huge foreign exchange lost (it is estimated at more than N300 billion yearly), but the job losses and processing technology that effective rice cultivation on commercial scale in the country would have entailed. In other words, while we keep the economies of our exporters running smoothly, we deliberately asphyxiate ours for the sake of others.

And the economic and psychological pains associated with this syndrome is best appreciated against the backdrop of the fact that credible research has shown that Nigerian farmers, effectively motivated, can produce some N3.5 million metric tons per year, of that grain.

What is more: this dire food situation is persisting less than one year after the claimed spectacular success of the Obasanjo administration in its rice farming revival policy/programme. Under the aegis of that policy the country, reportedly, reduced, as at 2007, its total rice imports by 500,000 metric tonnes. In sheer monetary (financial terms), this implies a net reduction of N70 billion in our rice import bill.

The critical question there is, is our rice revival plan still stable and virile? Beyond that anyway, are these hard facts: That we are paying as much as N80 billion over a short term period, to Thailand, once headquarters of the ignoble trade in commercial flesh-related service (prostitution) and which has far less favourable climatic condition(s) than Nigeria, shows how little emphasis we place on the development of our potentials and resources – human, natural and material.

This probably accounts for our persistence as a third world country, unable to tap our innumerable world-grade assets and talents for economic prosperity and for a political statement on the global scene. How long will this persist? There is, however, a good lesson in the current crisis: It is a wake up call for all stakeholders for the massive investments that should, for long, make Nigeria the world’s largest producer of rice that she potentially is that is the opportunity in this crisis and its challenge. But will we act, as appropriate?

Keywords:
Yar’Adua

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