Rice, a food commodity, initially occasionally consumed by households, mostly ceremonially, soon became a daily household staple, a first choice at public gatherings and a common food item in our growing fast food outlets. What governments and individual consumers have failed to reckon with, over the years, was the insidious destruction the growing appetite for rice has caused to Nigeria economy, especially when two-third of the rice consumed is imported.
Four decades of Nigeria food balance sheet history were filled with rhetoric, regrets and rots arising from a decline in local food production profile while the food import bill was on the rise.
The health, security and economic implications of rice importation cannot be over emphasized, the nation and its people are the worst affected.
A vibrant population is also discouraged and displaced from farming. The economic shock is further compounded by the absence of viable alternative employments for the displaced.
The diagnosis of the importation conundrum is a worthwhile exercise if we really must appreciate the level of damage that it has done to our national psyche and the need to move out of the quagmire we have found ourselves for 40 years.
Importation is a major reason why agriculture and agribusiness became unattractive to Nigerian investors – small, medium or large scale.
Import licenses, tariff waivers, and other import-related incentives became a part of government annual policies to the detriment of the economy.
But under the Transformation Agenda of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, a hard look was cast at this and it was decided that Nigeria, as a nation, cannot afford to continue to toe this line ever so blindly.
This paved the way for the rice transformation agenda, an intervention that led – within the past two years – to a massive reduction in Nigeria dependence on rice importation.
The flood of 2012 that devastated some states including Kogi State became a blessing in disguise as it served as a springboard for possibility thinking, involving the inputs of local and international experts assembled by the Minister of Agriculture to think through on how to produce massively to make up for whatever food shortage was occasioned by the flood.
Ten states of northern Nigeria were systematically and methodically selected for the dry season incentivised irrigated rice production, a project that committed 264,000 hectares of farmland to dry season rice production, yielding about 1.1 million metric tons of rice within five months, keeping the farmers busy at a time of the year they were traditionally idle, and putting more money into their pockets.
The experiment arising from the flood of last year, has led to a policy direction of entrenching the dry season rice farming into Nigerias agricultural calendar, now to do massive production in twenty states, going forward.
The dry season intervention, being the first of such an attempt, arose out of the panic scenario that was painted by many economic analysts after the flood. It was an emergency response then, with limited time to plan and execute, a chosen line of decision, taken instead of succumbing to self-serving suggestions coming from traders who would rather that Nigeria import food to make up for perceived losses arising from the flood.
If ten states, on an experimental and emergency basis (as it were), could produce about a third of what is yearly imported, and done in response to a disaster, then let us think of what more states would produce under a deliberately planned and systematically implemented programme.
It is too premature for pundit to cast aspersion on the agricultural transformation programme implemented in rural communities simply because it has not done a magic, or because its results are not felt everywhere yet.
The confounding variables in agriculture are more complex, more complicated and more far-reaching in implications than in other sectors.
The journey to make Nigeria a global powerhouse in food production is ongoing. The results achieved in just two years give a signal of progress and a cause to cheer.
The flood plains of River Niger, just outside Lokoja, have been there for years, unutilised, until Capt. Idris Wada,Governor of Kogi State, working with the Federal Government team, turned the area to a massive rice-growing field during the past dry season. Governor Wada described rice as one crop where a lot of money could be made within three months as well as provide employment for its teeming unemployed.
The rice transformation agenda in Nigeria is not only aimed at boosting production but also at embarking on market interventions.
As a result of the rice revolution, guaranteed minimum price mechanisms are becoming operational in rice-producing states, working with the state governments, to encourage the farmers to remain in profitable business of rice production.
This takes off the unexpected price shocks that have largely decimated the farming population in the production of various agricultural commodities all over the country.
To further build the resilience of food system, the federal government completed a total of 10 new silos for strategic food reserves within one year, expanding Nigerias silo capacity by 400 per cent. These silos are now being provided under concessions to the private sector, for the establishment of world-class agricultural commodity exchanges.
Times no doubt have changed. Considering the dynamics in the nation’s agriculture, especially Kogi State in the past eighteen months, where the jinx seem to have been broken.
With the Kogi State efforts being complemented by other States, Nigeria will soon be free from rice imports and will produce, not just enough for local consumption, but will have excess to store and even export!
Nigerians need to be patient and see the positive side of the changes taking place on the fields, translating to improved rural economies, rising volume of locally-produced rice stock and freeing our economy from the stranglehold of decades of import-dependency.
Nigerians are now getting to know better and appreciate the paradigm shift that is unlocking the potential of Nigerias agriculture sector as efforts has been made to fight what was perhaps the most incipient corruption that has been entrenched in the rice sector.
With Kogi State being in the fore front among other states for a rice revolution and with the support Capt Idris Wada has shown to awaken the rice production,the state and the nation is rising from the ashes of decades of neglect of its agriculture sector. This no doubt is worth cheering about.