For a Safer Earth, Healthier Climate

BIG SCANDAL STORY: HOW NIGERIA’S MOST POPULAR STAPLE BECAME UNAFFORDABLE

Nigeria as a nation enjoys a rich variety of indigenous delicacies, sourced from diverse locally grown produces, poultry, and ingredients. However, rice which used to be an exclusive reserve for the rich or a staple for special days remains Nigeria’s most popular Staple. EarthNews Nigeria, Ruth Tene Natsa, in this Report sponsored by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, AFSA tells of how the popular staple became unaffordable for millions of Nigerians as the government pushed for local production.

Known for her rich indigenous food culture, it is common knowledge, that the nation is blessed with different variants of rice, cowpea, potatoes, yam, and maize from which the different cultures have their indigenous foods. While families and homes were known to breed their poultry locally.

However, the high demand for some of these staples led to a burgeoning importation market, which repressed local production and produce particularly that of rice and poultry.

Until 2015, Nigeria markets and super-markets were flushed with different variants of imported rice from Thailand, China, and India, costing millions of dollars in the importation, when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) placed a ban on 41 imported items, including rice, pork, beef, birds-eggs, fruit juices, and vegetable oils, among others from accessing foreign exchange from the official window.

https://trade.gov.ng/en/custom-pages/prohibited-items-list-during-import

The federal government also banned the importation of rice through land borders and kept a hefty 70% tariff on imports coming through ports. These actions were taken in a bid to discourage importation and encourage local production.

The implication of this ban, was the significant hike in the cost of rice, which rose from the cost of N8,000 ($16) for a 25kg bag to N35,000 ($1400) as sold today, while the locally produced rice sells for just a little less. This ultimately implies that despite the ban, foreign rice still continues to make it into our local markets and is sold at the new outrageous sums.

It is therefore not much of a surprise that rice smuggling into Nigeria, took a new dimension with thousands of bags smuggled in constantly. While many are intercepted, many illegal bags still make themselves into the market.

With a population of 218,479,775 as of Saturday, December 3, 2022, based on Worldometer, the need to further boost indigenous production is higher than ever. This is even as the need to protect smallholder farmers who are focused on local production continues to fade, further adding to the high cost of living in Nigeria.

A major factor contributing to the rising cost of the staple includes among other issues, smallholder farmers’ inability to provide security for their farms, as farmers in recent times have constantly reported, attacks (for those who survive to tell their stories), they are constantly kidnapped and made to pay huge ransoms, while many others have fallen victims to killer herdsmen in their farms.

This is not the case for industrial farmers who can afford to pay hugely for the security they enjoy in their farms.  As such many small-holder farmers, despite acknowledging the profitability of rice farming have been pushed off the markets as they cannot meet current demands.

For Bulus Bauna a rice and kernel farmer from Kaduna state, his production is only sufficient to feed his family and sell to immediate community members, and still leave him with sufficient seeds for the next farming season when he is able to make it to the farm.

According to Mallam Bulus,” I have over 10 hectares altogether. On two hectares I grow over 350 palm trees and harvest weekly. While I farm rice and beans on one and a half hectares respectively, and harvest 20-50 bags of 25kg of rice and 10 25kg of beans depending on available resources”.

Farming is profitable right now and rice is a good market, but it is not safe as our communities are constantly being attacked. So I am only able to use the farm close to our community.

On the use of inorganic fertilisers, he said “I do not use artificial fertilisers.  I only use waste products from my farms, such as poultry waste, goats, and pig dung.  I currently do all work manually, but if I can get some small machines, I will be able to expand my production and produce more”.

Bulus who said he is open to mild mechanization said he is not worried about the big corporations as there is a ready market for all his produce. “We hear about large farm corporations but they are not in our community, this is probably because of the insecurity that has troubled our part of the world.”

For, Executive Director, of National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services (NAERLS) ABU Zaria, Professor Mohammed Khalid Othman (retired), who holds the view that, large farming corporations be encouraged in Nigeria, because of the nation’s bludgeoning population. He maintains that large cooperations are less compared to the nation’s food demands.

In his words “Such farms constitute less than 10% in Nigeria, such that production of Olam farm is not enough for the company, they have to source from the local farmers through aggregation

“Apart from Olam farm, where are others? 20 years ago, there were more in number such as UTC farms, Leventis farms, Sambo farms etcetera. They have all collapsed because of the hostile farming environment, and now, most of the food products including sugar are massively being imported to the tune of over 1 billion USD daily.

“We are in a big mess,” he said.

“Prof. Othman further argues that indigenous food is not adequate to meet Nigerians’ consumption daily until we improve our farming systems”

However, an Activist and Coordinator, of Eco Defenders Network, Northern Region, Shehu Akowe, is of the belief that Agroecology stands as a natural solution to producing wholesome as well as environmentally friendly foods for our fragile degraded ecosystems including biodiversity management.

“It is proven that smallholder farmers in Asia and Sub-Sahara produced about 80% of the foods consumed. It is measured here as sustainable agriculture and life-saving foods produced by experts who are small-scale farmers. He added that small-scale farmers must be allowed to thrive from the suppression of corporations through the introduction of failed technologies and fake seeds whose sole aim is profits and not the well-being of the masses.

He added that corporations in Africa have changed the landscape of food production from culturally, indigenous and healthy foods to profit-making and poisoned soil-producing toxic foods.

His position is further supported by a Professor of the Joseph Sarwuan Tarka, University of Agriculture, Benue State, and National President of the National Association of Yam Farmers, Processors, and Marketers Eng.  Prof. Simon Itwanga, who opines that “Agroecology is a solution only if governments are able to aggregate smallholder farmers into clusters so that they can produce as much as the commercial farmers.

According to Prof. Itwanga, there is a lot of emphasis, globally now on agroecology. However, that cannot solve Nigeria’s food problem. What can solve the food problem is a clustering of smallholder farmers so that large-scale food processors will now be able to source for their processing from these clusters. What this means is that we need to refocus, on the smallholder farmers who are able to practice agroecology within their own environment.

Suppose we are able to put our policies right because nature and agriculture have to go hand in hand. We can also get the smallholder farmers to produce on a large scale”. He said

Putting the blame of the intrusion of large commercial farmers on the failure of the smallholder farmers to expand production he opined that: “There are issues of productivity. Emphasis should not be on putting more land under production but should be on productivity, which then means that a smallholder farmer can have a small piece of land and still have maximum output to meet with food demands and security in West Africa”

“But what we find is that because they are unable to achieve productivity, they put more land under cultivation. You do not have to have agriculture destroying nature, agriculture can coexist with nature, but only if we do that at a smallholder level.” He maintains

He added that the large commercial farmers who have learned to expand production by putting larger lands to use end up destroying the ecology, and buying off lands that smallholders manage among other issues

“There is no doubt that industrial farmers produce more, their emphasis is usually putting more land under production. Sadly, when the industrial farmers come in, they destroy the ecology, destroy the environment and uproot trees because mechanisation requires a vast expanse of land that is free of obstacles to doing large farming, and in that process, the ecology is destroyed”

He stressed the need to not put emphasis on agriculture as a business, but on sustainable agriculture, which he said will place agriculture not just as a business but for food sovereignty.

A consumer and businessman, Victor Onouha says despite his love for rice and other indigenous foods, he is not much concerned about who produces them.

“When I get to the market, I do not ask, was this product produced by a local or corporate farmer?  I just want to get healthy grains and tubers which are readily available as long as you have the money”

Right now, when I get to the market, I simply pay for what I can afford and leave the debate of local and cooperation farming to the experts”

According to Onouha “Just give me a plate of eba (cassava Pudding) or pounded yam, with Onugbu, Oha, or any other deliciously prepared soup and we are good.  A well-prepared meal of Jollof rice, or rice served with stew, is an added bonus. I just can’t imagine life without our local foods.

Experts are advocating agroecology, through cluster farming, as a solution that can promote food sovereignty.

Like other parts of Africa, Nigeria despite her rich varieties of food is battling various agricultural challenges, evidenced through genetic engineering of local foods, the use of banned poisonous pesticides outlawed in Europe, climate disruption, insecurity, burgeoning population, scarce food resources, inflation, and a declining farming population.

There is also a bludgeoning market for foreign, processed foods, such as canned produce, fast foods, and other packaged foods. It is, however, interesting to note that almost all foods produced in Nigeria are locally sourced.

However, EarthNews Nigeria’s investigation reveals that while there have been intrusions of large agricultural corporations in Nigeria, they are known to constitute less than 10% of the nation’s farming population. Some of them due to their inability to hit their targets have resorted to the practice of aggregate farming, where they source products from smallholder farmers.

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