The balance between food supply and food security: Evidence from Nigeria’s rice pyramids

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food security can be regarded as the act of “ensuring that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to the basic food that they need.” The issue of malnutrition and hunger remains one of the greatest challenges facing the Nigerian populace.

Meanwhile, food inflation, which has accounted for 70% of Nigeria’s inflation, has continued to compound Nigeria’s hunger and poverty crisis while Nigeria continues to retain its position as the poverty capital of the world.

Also, the recent covid-19 pandemic further increased the vulnerability of most households to hunger in Nigeria as food prices continues to be on the high side while the level of food supply in circulation has not kept pace with the even stronger growth in demand.

According to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) Nigeria with a score of 28.3 ranks 103 out of 116 countries under consideration while another report by ‘Borgen Project’ revealed that Nigeria is one of the most food-deficient countries in Africa which implies that Nigeria has a high level of hunger.

According to a report by Statista, about 21.4 % of populations in Nigeria are exposed to hunger.

However, one major factor responsible for the prevalence of hunger is the fact that

people do not have access to enough resources to adequately cater or them. For instance, ‘Borgen Project’ revealed that “Nigeria’s food crisis is correlated with high level of poverty while Statista maintained that “people in severe food insecurity would go for many days without access to food due to lack of money or other resources”.

In order to address the challenges of hunger and poverty, there have been numerous national agricultural programs introduced in the past fifty years. However, bulk of agricultural programs in Nigeria has not yielded a satisfactory result. The most recent of such interventions is the Anchor Borrowers Program, a scheme that was introduced in 2015 to provide financial support to both small-scale and large-scale farmers.

According to the CBN, the Anchor Borrowers Program was borne out of the desire of the government to achieve national food security and ensure economic diversification.

Earlier this year, the Nigerian government unveiled rice pyramids that amounted to 13 million bags arranged into 15 pyramids. According to the government, the idea behind the unveiling of the rice pyramids is to show Nigerians the effectiveness of its Anchor Borrowers Program.

In the words of the Nigerian president, “the commissioning of these rice pyramids is an indication that our country is making steady and assured progress towards self-sufficiency in food production.”

Nigeria’s rice pyramid: Issues arising

According to the CBN governor, the stacks of rice pyramids will provide an undisputable effort made by the current administration to guarantee food security and to make the agricultural sector a corner stone to enable Nigeria attain food self-sufficiency.

According to the FAO’s report, “Nigeria’s rice production rose from 3.7 million metric tons in 2017 to 4.0 million metric tons in 2018 however, only 57% of the 6.7 million metric tons of rice is locally produced” going by this revelation, the CBN banned the importation of rice into the country so that Nigeria will begin to produce its own rice thereby reducing the demand on foreign exchange and provide more jobs for its populace.

Presently, Nigeria is the largest producer of rice in Africa followed by Egypt as a result of this, the Nigerian government revealed that its agricultural revolution policy is gradually yielding result and that is why Nigeria can now boast of being the largest rice producer in Africa.

However, the unveiling of the rice pyramids have resulted into mixed reactions from Nigerians.

For instance, a report by ‘Daily Trust’ one of Nigeria’s dailies revealed that Nigerians are in doubt of the authenticity of the numbers of rice that makes up the pyramids as some perceive the high rising pictures as just face value figures; but that’s not the point, the major issue is that even if the figures of the total bags of rice amounts to 13m as revealed by the Nigerian government will it cater for the needs of the Nigerian populace?

Currently, Nigeria is the highest producer of rice in Africa followed by Egypt and the 14th highest producer of rice globally however; the fact still remains that we cannot compare ourselves with other African countries because our population growth rate matters.

Considering Nigeria’s growing population, 13 million bags of rice is definitely a far cry from the current reality which implies that the government would have to do more than just roll out funds to small-scale farmers because catering for a population of about a 250million people will require more of a mechanized and industrial approach.

The Nigerian government reported that Nigeria now ranks 13th in global rice production, however, statistical evidences suggests that Nigeria’s rice production per person is only 30.754kg meanwhile countries like Mali , Madagascar, Guinea that were ranked lower than Nigeria in terms of total output production had a per person output of 145.538, 145.292 and 166.881 respectively.

The reason might be due to the fact that majority of farmers in Nigeria are small holder farmers therefore the impact of government interventions as far as food security is concerned might not really be felt.

Also, the claims that Nigeria now exports its own rice might be one of the key reasons why rice is now very expensive and less affordable for the common man because it will only imply that Nigeria has started exporting to other countries when it has not produced enough rice for its own citizens.

Economics tells us that when there is an excess of demand over supply this will force the price of commodities to go up and vice versa.

There is therefore no gainsaying that the price of rice increased sporadically because Nigeria has not yet attained the point of self- sufficiency in rice production before deciding to export to other countries if the government’s claim is true.

Furthermore, according to the president, Nigeria’s improved rice production will reduce the price of rice in Nigeria but the reverse has been the case as the available data points to the fact that the ban against the importation of rice has only increased the level of food inflation in Nigeria while exchange rate has also been on the increase side.

One major issue that needs urgent attention is that Nigerian rice that used to be sold for N8, 000 prior to the ban against foreign rice is now being sold for as high as N30, 000 even with the intervention of the government.

Meanwhile, the standard of living has generally not improved while cost of living continues to be on the high side. The implication of this is that many Nigerians would not be able to afford it and the ones who can afford it might not be able to get sufficiently fed which implies that government would need to focus more on food affordability and security and not just food supply.

Read also: The African Union and food insecurity

Striking the balance between food supply and the fight against poverty:

The major reason why agricultural policies are formulated is to ensure food security and production. However, there is no evidence that the bulk of agricultural policies formulated over the years have translated into better and higher access to agricultural products both in quality and in quantity. Therefore there is no gainsaying in concluding that even though rice production in Nigeria has increased, there is still no food security as prices of food continues to increase and standard of living has generally not improved thereby increasing the vulnerability of Nigerians to more hunger.

There is no point banning the importation of rice into Nigeria if the prices of home grown produce cannot compete favourably with foreign products.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), one of the major reasons why many people remain vulnerable to hunger is because they are poor. In their submission, “policies may be needed to ensure that higher incomes translate into improved nutrition, including policies focused on health, education, social protection and infrastructure.” This implies that the Nigerian government might want to take a look at addressing the issue of poverty first before any other thing.

It is important to realize that food security goes beyond increased food supply. A country can continue increasing food supply and the people will continue to wallow in hunger therefore an all-round approach that will also address the issue of poverty should be considered.

Also, government would need to get accurate statistical figure to enable it make accurate economic plans for its teeming population. The fact that government has rolled out billions of naira does not mean it will cater for the needs of all Nigerians; the Nigerian government would have to do away with complacency as this will only exaggerate the achievement of its policies beyond the current realities on ground.