Abuja Mega Rice Pyramids

The Facts And Myths Of Buhari’s Mega Rice Pyramids

By Mukhtar Ya’u Madobi

Amidst pomp and pageantry, President Muhammadu Buhari had on Tuesday January 18, 2022 unveiled the FCT Mega Rice Pyramids at the Abuja International Trade Fair Complex, as part of the event marking the Rice Festival and the launch of the 2021/2022 dry season production. The pyramid was adjudged to be the biggest of its kind in Africa.

It was believed that this landmark achievement was the experimental result of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) long financing efforts of agriculture over the years through its Anchor Borrowers Program (ABP) in collaboration with the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN).

Interestingly, the end has finally justified the means, as farmers, their financiers and other stakeholders converged to celebrate their collective hard-earned victory after several years of hard work and dedication.

Recall that, back during the early days of President Muhammadu Buhari administration, he made it crystal clear that one of the focal points of his administration was diversification of economy and making Nigeria self-sufficient in terms of food production. Thus, to begin with, he out rightly outlined plausible mechanisms aimed at revamping the ailing agricultural sector by providing intervention to farmers in form of loans.  This subsequently leads to the birth of the Anchor Borrowers Program.

The initiative, born in Kebbi state was launched by President Buhari in November 2015, the ABP was conceived as a necessity in view of the stark reality of the country’s food insufficiency and consequent economic woes. As at 2014, the total rice production in Nigeria was less than 4 million metric tons annually.

The Programme evolved from the consultations with stakeholders comprising Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, State Governors, millers of agricultural produce, and smallholder farmers to boost agricultural production and non-oil exports in the face of unpredictable crude oil prices and its resultant effect on the revenue profile of Nigeria.

According to the CBN’s guidelines for the ABP, the broad objective of the programme is to create economic linkage between smallholder farmers and reputable large-scale processors with a view to increasing agricultural output and significantly improving capacity utilization of agricultural firms.

Beneficiaries of the programme include farmers cultivating cereals (rice, maize, wheat, etc.), cotton, roots and tubers, sugarcane, tree crops, legumes, tomato, poultry, fish, dairy and livestock among others.

The loans are disbursed to the beneficiaries through deposit money banks, development finance institutions and microfinance banks, which the programme recognises as participating financial institutions. Thus, they have also contributed tremendously in ensuring that the project has finally seen the light of the day.

While commissioning the pyramids, President Buhari said, “the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme has so far supported over 4.8 million smallholder farmers across Nigeria for the production of 23 agricultural commodities including maize, rice, oil palm, cocoa, cotton, cassava, tomato and livestock.”

Subsequently, these paddy bags that constituted the pyramids have since been on transit to be various rice milling plants across Nigeria, which will lead to the release of processed rice to the markets by the rice millers. This measure is expected to aid efforts at reducing the price of rice across the country, as noted by president Buhari.

In what appeared as corroborating Mr. Buhari’s notion, the President of RIFAN, Alhaji Aminu Goronyo in his welcome address said the rice paddy pyramids in Abuja constituted only 0.05 per cent of what was produced under the 2020/2021 dry season, adding that over 99 per cent was ready for processing in various states.

Meanwhile, at this present situation, it is apt to say that the ABP has undoubtedly achieved its mandates as Nigeria’s rice production has almost increased by over 92% when the present production volume was matched against that of the 2014 before the takeoff of the program.

Speaking at the unveiling, the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, disclosed that the Apex bank had invested N1 trillion to empower at least 4,489,786, rural farmers, through intervention financing leveraging its flagship programme, the ABP.

“As at the end of December 2021, we have financed 4,489,786 farmers that cultivated 5,300,411 hectares across 21 commodities through 23 Participating Financial Institutions in the 36 states of the federation and FCT.”

It is pertinent to know that, among other objectives, the sole aim of ABP was to curtail importation of food stuff into the country. Some Asian rice producing countries like Thailand know the devastating blow the programme dealt their economy. Prior to the establishment of ABP, Thailand’s sole rice export to Nigeria was in the range of 1.3 million metric tons of the 3 million metric tons’ deficit. Surprisingly from the records available, Thailand in 2021 was able to export 2,160 metric tons to Nigeria only. This has no doubt helped Nigeria in saving foreign exchange and preservation of jobs.

Emefiele also explained that productivity per hectare has significantly improved from about 2.4 metric tons per ha in 2015 to between about 5 metric tons per ha in 2021.

Presently, of the average 14.6million tons of rice produced annually in Africa, Nigeria accounts for 8million tons thereby making it the largest producer in the continent above Egypt that used to produce 4.63million tons before it suffered a decline of almost 40% in the last two years.

Apparently, these recently unveiled paddy pyramids consolidate the country’s dominance in terms of paddy production in Africa, but there are many questions left unanswered about their (pyramids) true existence in real life situations when looking at how the price of rice has continued to soar across Nigerian markets.

Several market surveys have since indicated that, for a 50kg bag of rice that used to be sold at N8,000 in 2015, now the price has skyrocketed to between N24,000-N30,000! What an unprecedented hike? There are so many problems that gave rise to this daunting situation, pointing to rising insecurity as the main cause.

You will probably agree with me that the booming banditry and kidnapping industry that ravaged almost the entire northern part of the country especially in Zamfara and Katsina states, farmers-herders conflict, communal clashes among other have forced a lot of farmers to abandon their farms for the safety of their lives. As a result of that, a vast hectares of arable land were left uncultivated leading to significant deficit in the volume of commodities supply across the nation. As such, the country is now being threatened by the looming danger of food crises, especially in the conflict-ravaged zones.

It is disheartening to recall that back in 2020, about 43 defenseless farmers were slaughtered in their own pool of blood by Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists in Borno states while harvesting their rice fields. More worrisome is the fact that, instead of the government to go after the perpetrators and equally console the family of the bereaved, a blame was heaped on them on why they did not obtain clearance from the military prior to visiting their farms! How does that help farming or agriculture? Is this not a dent on the image of the government as farmers in troubled areas must seek permission from the security agencies before gaining access to their farms?

Apart from that, natural disasters including flooding, drought, pests and diseases have also contributed a lot to the failure of agriculture in the country over the years leading to poor or zero yield at the end of harvest season. These among other reasons have made it impossible for some farmers to repay their ABP’s loans, thus making it unattainable to recruit new sets of farmers into the program.

It is unfortunate that, as at March 2021, CBN Economic report for April indicated that farmers who subscribed to the CBN’s ABP owed the apex bank a tune of N463bn.

However, it’s a relief that the launched mega pyramids represent aggregated paddy rice submitted as repayment of loans by RIFAN farmers under the 2020 dry season and 2021 wet seasons. This has no doubt symbolized the efforts made by farmers to commit to loan repayment through produce submission and ultimately ensure the sustainability of the Programme.

Tagged as ‘Giant of Africa’, Nigeria really needs to march its words with actions towards attaining food security, not just in the case of rice, but including all other commodities. A mere display of mega rice pyramids in Abuja does not translate to its availability, accessibility and affordability to every citizen, which is the core point of food security. This is crystal clear, as there is no correlation between the pyramids and the corresponding rice availability in the market.

Although the reality may currently be different, groundnut pyramids in Kano gave people the impression of hope, (true or false) that the commodity was in abundance. Given the scarcity of rice in Nigeria following its ban from being imported by the authorities, and the concerted efforts by both rice farmers and the federal government represented by the CBN that injected the required funds to grow rice locally, it was not unexpected that government would want to show off how successful the initiative has been.

However, people often say that the sight of loaded-ship near a seaport is an indication of imminent availability of products. So just as in this case of rice pyramids, we can also assume that this unveiling shall serve as an omen signaling a forthcoming influx of paddy across the whole nation at an affordable price.

Therefore, all said, Nigerians should be able to tell whether the rice pyramids are fake or genuine when they buy the next bag or bowl of rice in the market. Only then, we can be able to understand whether the Abuja rice pyramid is a possibility or a mirage.

 

 

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