By Muyiwa Olayinka
The responsibility of a good government is to ensure security in all forms. Security to properties and lives and most importantly, food security.
Nigeria has this challenge of security of lives and properties, most especially, the issue of Boko Haram and insurgences in the north eastern part of the country.
Why I do not want to focus on this, this article will attempt to dwell on food security.
Nigeria is a country that do not consume what it produces but consumes what it does not produce. An irony?
Rice, a staple food that it consumes are imported from Asian countries like China and Thailand. This is a sad episode since oil was discovered in the early 70s.
Agriculture had been the mainstay of Nigerian’s economy before she struck oil. She started importing foods from all over the world with her new affluence of petrol dollars.
It continued unabated with successive governments, although some made attempts in going back to agriculture with half pursuit of interests.
Quoting from a Central Bank of Nigeria report said, “Over $11bn was spent to import four consumable commodities–rice, wheat, fish and sugar– annually. Furthermore, The Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele said the Federal Government spent 2.41 billion dollars on rice importation between January 2012 and May 2015.
It is no longer news that the country is in recession, mainly as a result of low prices of oil internationally.
In response to recession, the Central bank of Nigeria banned many items from getting foreign exchange from the official channels. This is to conserve the scarce foreign exchange.
Rice was among the items deprived from accessing the official channels. With the ban placed on rice, the price sky rocketed to N20,000 or more from the previous years of N8000 for a 50 kg, many Nigerians could not afford the staple food any longer.
It behoves on government at all levels to find alternatives to meet the unquenchable demands of its people.
Lagos state has its peculiarities.
Firstly, it is an industrial and commercial centre of Nigeria. It houses the biggest port in the country and has limited land mass.
Secondly, being the commercial nerve centre of the country, the available lands have been taken over by high rise buildings, housing complexes and industrial estates.
As a result of this, it deprives the state from engaging in commercial farming but the market for consumption is fertile. So it has to reach out to states that have success story in rice plantation and cultivation.
States like Kano (Umza rice), Kebbi (Labana rice), Ebonyi rice.
Lagos state agreed with Kebbi state. In March 2016, the Lagos and Kebbi State Governments signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) which they believed would culminate in the production of 70 per cent of Nigeria’s rice requirements.
The agreement was ratified at the State House, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos by the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, and his Kebbi State counterpart, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu, along with representatives of the two governments.
Lagos State “is the largest consumer of food commodities in the country by virtue of its large population. The state has the market, with the required purchasing power. The state has an estimated consumption of over 798,000 metric tons of milled rice per year which is equivalent to 15.96 million of 50 kilogramme bags with a value of N135 billion per annum.
This partnership between the two states produces Lake rice.
LAKE is a coinage from LAgos and KEbbi.
Lake Rice is essentially rice cultivated in Kebbi, milled and bagged in Imota, Lagos, for the eating pleasure of consumers in the country’s commercial headquarters.
By mid december, Lagos state took delivery of Lake rice in different categories of bagged rice in 50kg, 25kg and 10kg. It was sold at controlled price at N12,000, N6000 and N2,500 respectively.
This is a laudable programme and the first time a successful collaborative achievement between the two states of the federation in making attempt in solving food crises.
The rice was sold at designated centres provided by Lagos state. Though it could not meet the demand of the populace, but the government adopted one man one bag policy to ensure fairly equitable distribution of Lake rice.
This programme is a government initiative especially when it was confirmed that adulterated rice are in circulation.
Many that bought and consumed it that it is delicious and better compared to parboiled rice imported from Asian countries.
There have been reported cases of fake plastic rice in circulation imported from Asian countries.
We hope there will be continuity with this programme so as to meet the demand of the teeming populace.
It should not be subsumed to score political points. In order to improve on this programme, the government should include the private sector.
Governor Ambode of Lagos state intimated that the Federal government has promised to make available two rice mills to support this initiative. Also should have a feedback mechanism so as to serve as a guide to improve more on this scheme
Methinks government should licenced private investors to come on board and build more rice mills. Also it could identify major rice distributors in selling and marketing. This will encourage wealth transfer and creation of jobs.
By so doing, the programme will be deeply entrenched and will be free from government official’s manipulation.
Kudos to the two states involved, others should take a cue from this scheme, not only in food production but in other critical sectors.