How Emefiele’s Agric Intervention is Paying Off

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Godwin-Emefiele

• As Rice Boom Heralds a New Optimism

His gentle mien gives no inkling of his sturdy determination to promote and project made-in-Nigeria products. His message is simple enough – No country has ever succeeded if it imports everything she needs from other countries, particularly so if that country has the capacity and natural endowment to produce most of what she consumes. A tireless advocate of Nigeria First policy. In this piece, James Emejo assesses the unflinching determination of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, against all odds in advancing the patronage of made-in-Nigeria goods particularly local rice which has become the toast of every household

In line with its developmental function, which is distinct from its primary mandate of price stability, the CBN had established the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) which was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.

The programme aimed to create a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and smallholder farmers (SHFs) of the required key agricultural commodities.

The thrust of the ABP is the provision of farm inputs in kind and cash to smallholder farmers to boost production of farm commodities which states have comparative advantage to produce including cereals namely rice, maize, wheat, cotton, roots and tubers namely cassava, potatoes, yam, ginger, tomato, poultry, oil palm, fish, sugarcane among others.

The apex bank’s intervention was particularly strategic towards the resuscitation of moribund sectors of the economy in line with the present administration’s agenda to diversify the economy from oil as well as preserve foreign exchange.

With Nigeria’s annual rice importation at over $2 billion, this was particularly worrisome for the CBN as it constituted a major drain of the fragile reserves.

And when it appeared that most government economic blueprint to revive the economy had been mere statements of intent rather than action, Emefiele took the bull by the horns to undertake a difficult mission to stop the importation of commodities which the country has a comparative advantage to produce.

The CBN governor’s efforts towards food sufficiency especially in rice production have now materialized and currently causing ripples effects in the economy.

Today, there has been a revolution in local rice production, as most of the inactive rice mills across the country have suddenly received life again while the staple has become the favorite in most Nigerian homes, partly because of its affordability and the fact that local rice had been properly cleaned up to eliminate stone particles which had been a turn off for most people. The staple can now compete with the imported counterpart.

However, Emefiele’s feats in revolutionizing agriculture especially in the areas of rice, tomato, milk, textile production had pitched him against powerful interests in the society, who hitherto benefitted from a largely dysfunctional system as they continued on huge food import, however, at the expense of the country’s hard-earned reserves.

These individuals have now embarked on a smear campaign and sponsored despicable campaigns against the efforts of the CBN to reset the economy.

Nevertheless, Emefiele’s passion and commitment to economic diversification had been strengthened as well as applauded from far and near, as those who never thought a revolution could ever happen in rice production have eaten back their words.

Today, local rice has practically replaced foreign rice as the preferred staple, thanks to efforts by the federal government and the CBN towards patronage of locally made products.

All markets and shops are now filled with locally manufactured rice, with the attendant economic implications on employment generation for the unemployed youths.

Emefiele had stressed that agriculture presented the major opportunity for long-term sustainable development in the country, noting that in spite of the current levels of unemployment, the sector remained vital to the efforts of the federal government in diversifying the country’s monolithic economy away from oil.

While recently acknowledging the twin-challenge of youth restiveness and unemployment, the CBN stressed the need for stakeholders to confront the challenge with innovative thinking using agriculture as a fulcrum of a long-term sustainable and profitable approach.

According to him, agriculture had the potential for huge revenue generation and remained pivotal in job creation, noting that the fact that the agricultural sector was the only sector that experienced growth during the recent recession in the country bore testimony to that.

Nevertheless, further in attesting to the effectiveness of the CBN ABP especially in rice production, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono recently announced that the country will begin to export its brand of rice within the next two years.

He said: “With the improved production rate, Nigerian rice will soon be exported, before the closure of our land border, most of these rice milling plants were partially operating, but now, they not only operate in full capacities but are also expanding.

“If we maintain the momentum in the next two years, we may export rice to other countries. I was worried in terms of the production of rice, but what I have found out is that most rice producers have stocked rice for the next six months. This means that before the stock is finished, dry season rice will be harvested, and before that finishes, the rainy season will come back.”

The minister noted that the country cultivates rice in a nine-month cycle adding that “probably as we move on, the cycle will widen, so we do not have a problem with rice processing.” He also said that there had been an expansion of the local rice value chain as well as the creation of more jobs due to an increase in rice production.

As of today, we have 11 rice milling plants with the capacity to produce from 180 tonnes to 350 tonnes of rice per day. In a few months, another mill with a capacity to produce 400 tonnes of rice per day is going to be opened, with another upcoming 34 smaller mills; then, we have clusters in different areas.”

It is estimated that the country consumes about seven million tonnes of rice annually, a development that has become unsustainable given current fiscal challenges of the government as well as the fact that it is blessed with vast proportions of arable land and youthful population to benefit from agriculture.

Stakeholders have continued to back Buhari and Emefiele in their decision to restrict foreign exchange to food importation, rather encouraging them to support local producers.

The CBN currently categorized about 43 items that are not eligible for forex at the official windows.

However, key players in the agricultural sector told THISDAY that Buhari’s move was welcoming and long overdue towards the repositioning of agriculture and the economy in general.

The National President, Rice Farmers Association (RIFAN), Alhaji Aminu Goronyo said all farmers’ groups have lauded the pronouncement and committed to ensuring the country achieves food security.

He said: “It is not a new thing at all as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has in the last four years, has not been issuing forex to most of the essential commodities that were being imported into the country.

“For over four years, rice and other commodities including maize which had not enjoyed any support from the CBN to import them into the country. So, this is not a new thing, nevertheless, it is a welcome idea as Nigeria in no distant time will be self-sufficient in all commodities going by this instruction from the president.

“It is a welcome idea and all the commodities associations in Nigeria welcome the idea and we have tightened our belts to make sure we do not fail the president in this laudable effort he has made to stop taking our money to foreign countries in the name of food items.”

Also, Vice President, Nigeria Agri-business Group/Chairman, Dr. Emmanuel Ejewere, said the president took the bull by the horns by with his landmark restriction of forex for food import.

He said: “I think what the president was saying is that to ensure food security, we must take such actions as to be self-reliant. If we are self-reliant then we can achieve food security and what is happening here is that we have become a nation of importers and exporting jobs to people.

“The agricultural industry needs to grow a lot faster and the way to make it grow faster is to make sacrifices today for tomorrow’s happiness and security. So, I fully and totally support what the president has said, it makes a lot of sense and for a long time, this is one of the first times that the government of Nigeria has had the courage to bite the bullet and so what is right for Nigeria.

“There is no way we can go into the future in an economy that is agriculture driven if we do not take this decision that we have taken. So, the president made a wise decision and it is positively risky but I believe that it would work because the Nigerian agriculture community is just waiting for this kind of injection and it has come in and I support it absolutely and I commend the president for this courage.”

In the same vein, Chairperson of the Association for Small Scale Agro Producers in Nigeria (ASSAPIN), Hajiya Amina Bala Jubrin, lauded the move by Buhari, adding, however, that efforts should be geared towards creating a conducive environment for agricultural producers to thrive.

“For me as a farmer, it is the right step in the right direction. It is high time Nigerians started patronizing Nigerian products.

“My only take on this is that the federal government should take a giant stride in supporting or creating favourable conditions for producers such as bringing in machinery at a subsidized price for farmers to be able to afford.

“Like in the case of milk, our livestock products should be enhanced to have good breeds of cows: they can promote artificial insemination that would have our local breeds inseminated with the semen of the exotic breed so that if we don’t have at least 75 percent, at least we can have 50 percent, which is better than allowing our cows that can give 1 liter of 1.5 liters of milk. We should start getting cows that can give us at least 10 liters per day.”

She said: “These are some of the things the federal government can do. It is not necessary that our people have to go out and start bringing in every Tom, dick and harry as cows into this country and feed us with them. It is high time we produced our own.

“The conditions should be improved for the producer; bring machinery subsidized, bring improved seeds so that production yields will be increased. These are the things I will want the federal government to do rather than give forex to import because even the common farmer does not benefit from that.”

Meanwhile, Emefiele’s drive towards food security and economic revolution had come at a price: if anything, he has made enemies for himself and he has admitted at different fora that corruption was fighting back against his lofty objectives.

A former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh had particularly commended the CBN governor for refusing to bulge in the face of mounting opposition for him to abandon his commitment to diversifying the economy through laudable interventions in the agricultural sector.

He said: “The CBN has been pushing the agriculture programme with direct support by funding through programmes in the Ministry of Agriculture.

“People have called him (Emefiele) names and criticized him. But if he had not devised the means of bypassing the mountains of obstacles confronting production in this country, by today, the story of Nigeria would have been a horrible one.”

Yet, there were other economic saboteurs including smugglers who tried so hard to ensure they reversed the achievements of the CBN in resetting the economy.

Amid the success story in rice production, smugglers continued to breach regulations, bring in foreign rice in order to undermine the CBN and government’s efforts.

Last year, Chairman, Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN), Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar Maifata threw its weight behind the recent decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to effect partial closure of the border between Nigeria and the Benin Republic to stem the activities of smugglers.

He argued that but for the prompt response by the government, the country would have lost about $400 million (about N150 billion) to smuggling as intelligence showed that from January to August 2019, over one million metric tons of rice was brought into Benin from mostly Thailand and India.

He said: “The implications are that everything that comes to Benin comes to Nigeria because no other country in the West Coast eats parboiled rice, it’s only Nigeria. Benin itself eat white rice and going by their population, they require not more than 300 metric tonnes per annum. So, why do they bring in two million tonnes of parboiled rice in this case, not even the white rice that they eat.”

Highlighting the negative implications of smuggling on the economy, Maifata said: “This action cripples most of the local rice mills as we cannot operate because of the massive inflow of this rice into our economy.

“Most of the mills are working half capacity while others have even closed. Our farmers are now stocking up paddy rice because millers cannot buy and you know the massive campaign by the government for them to go back and produce this commodity.”

However, with the continued closure of the border, which may be unconnected with the CBN’s resolute stance to ensure that its intervention efforts in agriculture yield further fruits, rice farmers have started counting their gains again.

Emefiele had recently warned against the reopening of the borders anytime soon, citing possible reversal of current economic gains.

According to him, though the country could not afford to have its borders shut in perpetuity, reopening them at this time could roll back the economic gains so far achieved since the closure in August.

He said an attempt to reopen the borders could create room for a flooding of smuggled items into the country, a situation that could cripple the ability of rice millers to sell their stock, adding that smallholder farmers currently producing paddy will no longer be able to sell them while poultry farmers will equally be affected, a situation that could lead to massive job cuts in agriculture.

Listing the benefits of the closure on the rice industry, he said: “Before the border closure, two weeks before border closure, the president of the Rice Processors Association called to say that our Nigerian rice producers have produced rice they cannot sell that each of them is carrying close to 20,000 metric tonnes of rice in their warehouses.

“The Rice Farmers Association led by Alhaji Goronyo came out and also said that farmers cannot sell the rice they produced, that’s the paddy rice. We also have people in the poultry industry that said they couldn’t sell their chicken and eggs- some were carrying up to 5,000 crates of eggs unsold and they said the government needs to do something about it.”

He said: “Luckily, as a result of us intervening and other people intervening- in fact, it might interest you to know that most of the arms that have been brought into this country are being smuggled through the borders.

“Even the armed forces themselves gave in and said listen, that we need to do something about the borders. So, the government went ahead and shut the borders.

“And I am speaking truthfully: one week after the borders were closed, the president, the president of the Rice Millers Association called to say that all their millers had called to say that the rice they had in their warehouses had been sold. Paddy businesses are growing again.

“The poultry people also called to say they’ve sold all their eggs. All the chickens they have had been sold.”

Emefiele said: “So now when we say, those who say we should reopen our borders because they say it’s creating problems, what would happen is that when you reopen the borders again right, those smuggled items will come in our millers will no longer be able to sell their rice, our smallholder farmers that are producing paddy will no longer be able to sell their paddy and our poultry farmers can no longer sell their poultry.”

Virtually every state government has also commended the CBN governor’s bold and unprecedented intervention in agriculture in recent times.

The Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, recently applauded the CBN for the various efforts it has so far undertaken to resuscitate key sectors of the economy, stressing that without such a move, the ongoing revitalization of the manufacturing and agricultural sectors would not have been possible.

He said Emefiele’s management of the central bank was unprecedented, adding that steps were taken towards economic rejuvenation further portrayed him as “more than a central bank governor” and commended his contributions in developing agriculture and other key sectors.

Moreover, Buhari had commended and described the CBN’s ABP as crucial to lifting millions of small farmers out of poverty as well as providing jobs for the youths.

Recently, Emefiele has tasked policymakers in all sectors of the economy, particularly political leaders who had witnessed “the good old days” in the country, to take up the responsibility of ensuring that the system works again adding that the failure of the country to implement its development plans alongside the Asians tigers, in the 1960s, was partly responsible for its current travails.

The CBN boss, also said he would like to be remembered as one who did his best to get the country working again by the time he retired from public office and challenged other public office holders to have a similar mindset- of putting the country above any selfish interest.

He said: “We owe it as a responsibility as policymakers whether in the educational sector, in the banking sector, in the political arena to see to it that you contribute your best, your quota towards changing the situation for the better in our country.”

“We need to beat our chest as policymakers whether in education, in politics, in banking and tell yourself that you want to reverse the situation.”

He said: “It is unthinkable and I have been abused when we proposed exclusion of certain items, that I just went I to a room and found different things and I took toothpicks and I said we should not import toothpicks into Nigeria and that am I not ashamed that I am picking toothpick?

“And true, they may be correct. Because what does it take to produce toothpicks, ladies and gentlemen? Toothpicks machines can be imported for less than $50,000…and yet Nigeria was importing toothpicks.”

Continuing, he said: “Also, pencils used in writing, Nigeria imports pencil. What does it take to produce pencils, ladies, and gentlemen? Go to Ebonyi State, you have lead in large quantity and today, Lead is being exported out of Ebonyi State. That is what we did for our country.

“But what am I doing at this lecture? I am trying to say, in the midst of these adversity lies opportunities and all it takes is for us to stand and tell yourself that you want to do something for your country.

“You want to do something for yourself and for your country by extension. We express regret over what is happening today because we said things have gone bad but can you please stand and tell yourself in the next 15 to 20 years, we pray that we are able to turn things around- when people are beginning to talk about policymakers of today- that they will say positive things about what you have done for your country.

“And I tell myself that I will try as much as possible. By the next 20 years, perhaps I am in my garden or in my village resting and then people are expressing regrets over what policymakers didn’t do. I will beat myself and say I did my best.”