Worsening weather presents opportunity to vindicate Nigeria’s rice policy

This summer, various countries in the world’s northern hemisphere have experienced their hottest periods yet, resulting in heat waves that led to fatalities, especially in children and the elderly. Up to 70 people were reported dead in Montreal and 14 in Japan, where more than 2000 were sent to hospitals. As summer gives way to fall, however, meteorologists are keeping their eyes on El Nino predictions, and this information should interest a country like Nigeria.

El Nino is the warm phase of the earth’s natural El Nino Southern Oscillation, associated with a band of warm ocean water in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific. This often results in warm and cold temperatures. The cold phase is called La Nina, and the warm El Nino. Countries bordering the Pacific Ocean that are involved in fishing and agriculture are often affected by this phenomenon because of its impact on weather conditions like Monsoon rains. Earlier this year, there were predictions that a global rice shortage would be caused by El Nino due to a predicted shortage of rainfall.

“The overall consensus is that El Nino might emerge in the latter half of the monsoon season,” said DS Pai, director of Long Range Forecast in India Meteorological Department, “but the exact timing is what matters, because if rains reduce around September, they may not then have a big impact on the health of standing crops. However, if they come earlier, there could be problem.”

Women plant rice saplings at a paddy field in a village in Nagaon district, in the northeastern state of Assam, India, July 3, 2018. Picture taken July 3, 2018.
Women plant rice saplings at a paddy field in a village in Nagaon district, in the northeastern state of Assam, India, July 3, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

If El Nino indeed affects the monsoon season, it could lead to an apparent vindication of Nigeria’s rice policy, which started in 2014, under the leadership of then Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Akinwumi Adesina, under his Agricultural Transformation Agender (ATA). That policy has become the focus of the present agriculture minster, Audu Ogbeh, who has exerted more regulatory energy in controlling the Nigerian staple. Import has been banned, monies have been poured into securing the border to monitor this, and funds have been released to boost local production. His ministry was even involved in a war of words with the Thailand government after the minister bragged about how Nigerian government’s policies resulted in the closure of seven rice mills in Thailand, a claim that was refuted by the Thailand Ambassador to Nigeria, Wattana Kunwongse.

For Nigerians, the government policy on rice has resulted in some hardship. In 2017 alone, the price of 1Kg of rice increased by 68 percent, in spite of attempts by the government to increase production, which should lead to reduced market prices. The administration considers this growing pains, but for a country that just climbed to the top of poverty indices around the world, it is pain it can ill afford. Therefore, the rest of the world may be distressed with the El Nino news, but Nigerian officials might just be looking at it with glee, hoping for the worst. This development will provide justification for their policy.

During the 2008 global rice crisis, there was a 300% rise in the trading price of rice. While that is an extreme, anything that reduces the discrepancy between the international trading price and the local cost of the commodity will be good news for officials. Although the country does not yet produce enough to become a net-exporter, in an election year, any good news is fodder for propaganda.

But the coast isn’t clear for propaganda machines to roll out just yet. Recent weather reports have predicted a milder El Nino. “We’re probably looking at a weak to maybe moderate [El Nino], but certainly nothing like 2015-2016,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of U.S.’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. “That’s just not in the cards.” The agency will refine its El Nino forecast, with another issue due for 9 August. The rest of the world is hoping for the best, but Nigeria needs something short of that.