LAGOS – It is one year now that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari closed the country’s land borders as part of efforts to curtail smuggling and importation and also boost productivity of the Nigerian farmers.
Stakeholders, in separate interviews with DAILY INDEPENDENT, said that the policy has positively impacted on farmers’ fortunes as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) Anchors Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) has also helped the farmers increase their production.
They are of the opinion that the border should remain closed, as Nigerians are now consuming rice and poultry products freshly produced in the country.
Some, however, are of the view that the impact of the border closure has not been felt as agencies saddled to enforce the order are not doing their part as they should, as foreign rice and imported frozen poultry products are in major markets in Lagos.
Biodun Onalaja, a rice farmer and processor, who is also the chairman of Hyst Global Business Limited, producer of Okun Rice, said agriculture is the engine room of any economy which, if compromised, could destabilise the economy.
He said Nigeria was moving to the verge of collapse in agriculture through importation and smuggling until the closure of borders to prevent importation and smuggling of rice and frozen chickens.
“This decision has helped in the creation of jobs for the teaming youths in rice and poultry farming and also reduced dependency on crude oil. It has helped in revamping the moribund milling and poultry businesses which are now growing well,” he said.
Onalaja stated further that if the closure continues, for at least a decade, Nigeria will be self-sufficient in rice production and be exporting to neighboring countries.
Pa Akinlabi Samuel, Chairman, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Oyo State chapter, said the closure has been a blessing to rice farmers in the country.
“Before now, we planted rice but we had unsold paddies. Those milling would buy at a price they wanted, which was not profitable to we farmers. We only planted because of the interest we had at that time. Now, it has changed. We are now planting for commercial reasons.
“We are selling at a good price now and making profit. We have many millers now buying our paddies. It has been a blessing for all of us because more milling centres are coming up today.
“People are now requesting to eat our local rice and because of the high demand, a lot of people are now investing in the rice value chain,” he said.
Speaking further, he said that the CBN’s Anchors Borrowers Programme has helped the farmers greatly, as off-takers are on ground to off-take what the farmers’ harvest.
“The off-takers are very close to us now, as we are planting they are also ready and waiting for us to harvest so that they can take.
“The CBN has shown more interest now, even right from the land preparation they are discussing with us, by the time they are measuring the farm, they are discussing with us, by the time the farmers start planting they are monitoring everything till the harvest level. The ABP is helping rice farmers greatly, we really appreciate the government for this,” he added.
Dr. Francis Nwilene, Regional Coordinator, Africa Rice Centre, said despite COVID-19, the policy has spurred farmers and agricultural investors to become proactive in food production and processing, especially in rice and poultry.
He stated that it is left for the government to emblace security either through vigilante or military forces for farmers during farm operation periods so they can cultivate crops, because Nigerians must eat and so, must produce food by all means.
He advocated irrigation facilities for farmers in the southern zones to make food production possible throughout the year and complement the irrigation farming in the north. Rain-fed agriculture alone cannot adequately produce food for all Nigerians, he added.
Nwilene explained South- West; South-South and South- East state governments should make efforts to invest in irrigation facilities.
Ajayi Grace, Chief Executive Officer of SITOG Foods, in her view, said that it is very good that the government closed the border to allow Nigerian farmers to sell their produce.
She said though bags of Nigerian rice are still expensive, with time, things would return to normal.
Ajayi said Nigeria is closer to rice sufficiency because more states are now focusing on its production.
“We only need to exercise patience with the present government. The Lagos State rice mill, located in Imota, with a capacity of 32-metric tonnes per hour is expected to be completed and delivered on or before the end of the year,” he said.
According to her, the mill, when operational, would ensure a steady supply of freshly processed rice of about 2.4 million bags of 50kg yearly to Lagosians, in addition to over 250,000 jobs to be created in both the upstream and downstream sectors of the rice value chain.
“I believe government knows what is right. When it is time to open the border, they will and if the closure will safeguard Nigerians farmers to thrive I support that,” she added.
Ezekiel Ibrahim, National President of the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), said the closure of the border has impacted positively on poultry industry, particularly curtailing of smuggled poultry products.
“It has boosted the production capacity of our farmers to meet the demand for poultry products and that has actually impacted on the health of the people because when you eat healthy foods, your health issues will naturally reduce,” he said.
Ibrahim, however, said COVID-19 came in and negated the positive achievements in the poultry industry.
“During the lockdown, we cannot move our products easily and when the restriction was eased, we realised that we are in dire need of raw materials, especially maize, which has really negated the positive achievements we have.
“So, our appeal to the government is to allow us limited importation of maize to carry on to December 2020. By then, we will have our local production coming into the market,” he said.
The PAN President further stated that the border closure should continue for now because it would be counter-productive to farmers if it is reopened.
“When you allow smuggled poultry products to come in, it means you are killing the industry and perpetrating unemployment.
“The poultry industry is employing almost three million people directly or indirectly. So, when you allow for smuggling, you will be sending these people to the unemployment market. So, as far as the issue of border closure is concerned, it should continue until we find our level, when the local production is able to balance. But when we are in dire shortfall, we can allow limited importation of essential raw materials like maize, soybeans and some of the inputs that we cannot produce here so that we will keep the local industry afloat,” Ibrahim added.
Also, Stephen Olufemi, General Secretary, Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Lagos State chapter, in his view, said that the closure should continue and be made effective.
He added that the effect of the long-awaited policy of the government is not yet seen.
“If you take a trip to Sango-Ota, Alaba Market, even Idiroko area, you will see that people in these areas sell and eat foreign rice only. Talking about the other parts of the country, Nigerian rice is competing with foreign rice,” he said.
In the case of chicken, according to him, “Ijora Market in Lagos State is full of foreign frozen chickens. There is no quantity of foreign frozen chickens you need that you would not get anywhere in Nigeria as of today.
“Ineffectiveness of all the agencies in charge of this policy has made the policy non-functional. Imagine a situation where those who transport foreign frozen chickens and rice in groups are being led from Cotonou to our country by our Custom officials. Trailer load of rice entering Nigeria through our porous borders every night will certainly make the policy ineffective,” he said.
Olufemi suggested that government should find another way of handling the agencies in charge so as to make the policy effective.