In Nigeria’s effort to boost local production and curb the smuggling of foods, especially rice, the government on August 19, unexpectedly closed Nigeria’s borders to goods trade with Benin and Niger. This closure has severely affected Nigerians causing a lot of discomfort on them and their pockets.
The price of a 50kg bag of rice increased from N15,000 to N21,000, increasing a 0.7kg derica cup (custard cup) of rice which previously cost N250 to between N400 and N500. As expected, this increase in price has led Nigerians to seek cheaper options. Many now buy local rice as against the favoured foreign rice and this has also increased the price of local rice. The price of a 0.7kg derica cup of local rice which cost N150 now goes for N300, forcing Nigerians to pay more to for one of their popular daily foods.
While Nigerians are crying about the effect of the closure of the border on the price of rice, neighbouring countries are also not spared. A few days ago, Benin farmers were crying over the closure of the border because dozens of baskets of tomatoes have continually gone bad and this has led to trade tension between both countries. Farmers of pineapple and other fruits and vegetables were also affected.
“This is a distressing sight,” Agriculture Minister Gaston Dossouhoui said this month, visiting markets in the town of Grand Popo, one of the main agricultural communities of southern Benin.
It is also no doubt that Benin imports, more than they can consume due to the porous Nigerian border. Huge quantities of frozen chickens, rice, fabric and cars arrive at the port of Cotonou, regularly before they are sold illegally to Nigeria.
While Benin is suffering this border closure, India is also being affected. Recently it was reported that the prices of rice in India slipped due to a fall in demand of the grain from Africa. Prices of 5 percent broken parboiled variety in top exporter India were quoted at around $371-$375 per tonne this week, down from $373-$379 a week ago. India’s rice exports also plunged 26.5 percent in April-July from a year ago to 3.14 million tonnes, a government body said earlier this month.
Nigeria with a population of about 200 million is one of the major consumers of rice. Rice accounts for about $1.65 billion, or ₦0.59trn of its import with most of the country’s rice being imported from Thailand and India. Analysts had predicted that the West African country will be the world’s second-largest importer of rice after China this 2019. Meanwhile, a lot of the bags of rice in Nigeria are smuggled through Benin, little wonder a recent statistics showed Benin to be a major importer of rice. The country accounts for 3.8 percent of globally imported rice at $930.5 million followed by Ivory Coast, South Africa and Ghana which accounts for 2.8 percent, 2.1 percent and 1.8 percent respectively of global import worth $688.9 million, $518.8 million and $451.9 million respectively.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has appealed to the Nigerian government to reopen its borders but the re-opening of the border does not seem in sight. With this, the government needs to take advantage of the situation and invest more in agriculture, thereby opening doors to more investments in agriculture.