OPINION: Rice Pyramids And The Elephants

FCT Rice Pyramids.

History was once again made on Tuesday, January 19, 2022 at the Abuja International Trade Fair Complex when President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled the FCT Mega Rice Pyramids.

These pyramids were not the first of such displays that bring to the limelight, the impact, effectiveness and results of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) as seen in Kebbi, Nassarawa, Niger and Ekiti States.

Birthed in Kebbi State and 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.

Of the 6.7 million metric tons of rice consumed domestically, local production could only account for 57 percent, leading to a deficit of 3 million to be sourced externally. The damning implication and impact on the country’s economy was evident as the pressure was reflected in the depleting nation’s reserves.

A country blessed with multifarious resources, the CBN under Godwin Emefiele’s watch took action to ensure that Nigeria produces what it eats while adding value and exporting the surplus. That was the basic logic in launching the programme.

At the time the ABP was launched, the country whose operational ability relied heavily on oil proceeds was gradually slipping into recession as shocks in the international crude oil market meant dwindling revenues and its attendant socioeconomic crisis in the country.

Catalyzing agriculture as a tool for economic empowerment, national growth and advancement, it is thus not surprising that the CBN in showcasing the success of the programme has enabled increased rice production to 7.5 million metric tons annually as of 2021.

On record also, is that the Bank through the ABP has empowered and supported about 4.4 million smallholder farmers across the six geo-political zones of the country in the production of 21 commodities which include rice, maize, oil palm, cocoa, cotton, cassava, tomatoes, poultry, dairy and livestock among others.

Lessening the strain on and preserving the national reserves through reduced imports, creation of jobs as well as ensuring food sufficiency and security, the ABP has undoubtedly set the Nigerian economy on a trajectory of growth and success.

Some Asian rice producing countries like Thailand knows 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.

It is pertinent to bring to the notice of naysayers that the Abuja Mega Rice Pyramids are only one of the efforts of the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme which has supported over 4,489,786 million farmers through funding and inputs to cultivate over 5.300,411 million hectares across 21 commodities.

In addition to involving 23 Participating Financial Institutions (PFI) in the 36 States of the federation and the FCT, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has effectively developed an eco-system along all nodes of the agriculture value chain which will be better optimized if all stakeholders key into the programme and synergize for the health of the economy.

Questions directed to the critics of the Abuja Mega Rice Pyramids are why did other rice pyramids celebrated in some States of the Federation in the past not attract such opprobrium? Must we play politics with everything? Shouldn’t the CBN and the government be commended for this feat?

These critics are the elephants in the house. These elephants are the fifth columnists, economic saboteurs who have not retreated in their efforts to discredit and sabotage every effort of the Godwin Emefiele-led CBN. He has not been forgiven for many of the actions initiated to galvanize the economy.

Rice importers particularly, who were feeding fat on the economy have refused to sheath their swords, swearing to battle him to the ground. Emefiele had shut their source of ‘illicit’ income made through criminal ways that include hoarding of locally produced rice to create scarcity, to engaging in criminal retagging of local rice in foreign sacks to sell, discrediting the programme and deceiving Nigerians.

Their hirelings do their biddings, shouting themselves hoarse in both traditional and new media because they are dazed with what the CBN in collaboration with RIFAN has achieved, which is making Nigeria attain an enviable position as the largest rice producer in Africa.

It has even become personal. Just as they did to the family of former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, baring their fangs few years past, for Godwin Emefiele’s audacious actions, his wife was kidnapped in order to cow him. That apparently did not deter him in any way.

Emefiele at the unveiling of the FCT Mega Rice Pyramids, revealed that “Beyond increasing our national output from about 5.4 million metric tons in 2015 to over 9 million metrics tons in 2021, we have also significantly improved the productivity per hectare of the smallholder farmer from about 2.4 metric tons per ha in 2015 to between about 5 metric tons in 2021”. A commendable feat.

The other elephant is the insecurity and banditry ravaging the country which has limited the programme’s full capacity. Many rice farmlands have been set ablaze by criminals operating in some parts of the country. Recently in a State in the Northern part of the country, 43 rice farmers were beheaded by bandits for no just cause.

The lesser of the evil is the rampant flooding of some farmlands, majorly in the food belt area where rice farming is done on large scale, leading to huge losses incurred by the farmers. This challenge has created hiccup for some farmers to repay their loans. These evils are within the responsibility of the government to arrest and deal with. Addressing them will ensure economic prosperity and return Nigeria to her glorious years of abundance. The politicizing of a laudable programme being done in national interests is nothing but obnoxious.

As Nigerians, we should imbibe the spirit of patriotism, believe and owning what is ours. The CBN has and is filling the gap for what should be the fiscal authorities’ responsibility, all in a bid to ensure the Bank’s monetary and price stability responsibility is effectively carried out. Rather than smearing Godwin Emefiele, we should join hands with him, support and come forward with great ideas on what can and should be done better.

Ademola Bakare writes from FCT, Abuja

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