Rice, o compatriots — coming down to N6, 000 a 50kg bag — rice, o compatriots!
Did you hear that dramatic whoop! But how feasible is it?
Audu Ogbeh, Agriculture and Rural Development minister, certainly feels it is, in a few months, if the Federal Government provides farmers with the needed incentives to cut down the stress — and cost — of production. And he tends to have committed the Federal Government to doing just that.
“Last year,” the minister recalled, “we procured 80, 000 threshers; this year, we will procure another 2, 500 threshers; and we are bringing in more reapers for distribution to rice farmers.”
“The equipment,” added the minister, “will enable them to cut the rice, thresh it, winnow it and put it in sacks. It will take away all the stress, which makes rice farming very difficult so that you can keep to the price of N110, 000 per tonne of paddy that we agreed.”
Well, if the price of rice will fall, it certainly won’t be by happenstance! But what are the farmers themselves saying? Doable — if …?
Alhaji Aminu Goronyo, national president of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) speaking at the meeting of the Rice Processing Association of Nigeria (RIPAN), said though both RIFAN and RIPAN had cut the price of Nigerian-grown rice to between N13, 000 and N13, 500, further slicing to N6, 000 was possible.
The conditions? For starters, a bumper harvest. From the abundant rains this year, that would appear a probability.
And then? A Federal Government-induced cut in rice growing and processing cost, by guaranteed support services. That also came in the minister’s pledge of more threshers and more reapers. If the cut were to come to reality, it would make good economic sense in more senses than one.
To start with, reducing hunger is good economics. The prospect of cheaper rice promises that. Then, facing down and check-mating smuggling of imported rice, the major impediment of Nigerian rice taking over the market stalls; and driving down the price. If you can banish hunger and as well banish rice smuggling, that would be a master stroke indeed.
Hardball must also note that the Federal Government’s rice strategy, at least as enunciated by Chief Ogbeh, is food subsidy of sorts. By making available inputs, at little or no cost to the farmer, the actual product becomes cheaper; and the market (buyer) is the winner.
But the buyer is only one arm of the market. The seller is the other. So, every subsidy worth its while must not leave the farmer holding the short end of the stick. That could demotivate and dry up the supply end of the chain. That can only give rice smuggling renewed life.
But far more important: subsidy has a terrible record here — unsubsidized corruption! It was, during the swindle called petroleum subsidy. It was, also during the racket of fertilizer subsidy. So, everything must be done not to, in the euphoria of cheaper rice, birth another soulless bout of corruption.
Rice, o compatriots! But only wholesome rice without subsidy racketeering!
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