Nigerian rice farmers fall short after borders close

Thomas Tyavwva Maji is planting rice on more of his land in Nigeria's Benue State than ever to take advantage of a surge in prices since the country shut its land borders in August.

But he says he cannot go much further. With no machinery or irrigation, limited manual labour and no spare cash for fertilizers, the 45-year-old is not expecting any dramatic change in his fortunes.

"We work until we get exhausted, manually we get exhausted," said Maji, as a woman nearby beat hand-harvested stalks on the ground to separate the grains from the chaff.

The constraints Maji faces have bedevilled many rice farmers and millers across Nigeria for years. Despite government measures designed to spur production, farmers in Nigeria get far less from their land than other major rice growers and the West African country is only marginally less reliant on imports.

That's a problem for a government that wants to grow all of its own food and boost the country's agriculture, a sector that accounts for nearly a third of gross domestic product in Africa's biggest economy.

When he came to power in 2015, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari pledged to help the nation become self-sufficient in rice – once a luxury but now a staple for millions of Nigerians.

In 2015, Nigeria's central bank banned the use of its foreign exchange to pay for rice imports and has backed loans of at least 40 billion naira ($130 million) to help small-holders boost output. It also banned rice imports across land borders and kept hefty 70% tariffs on imports coming through ports.

In August last year, Nigeria went a step further and closed its land borders altogether to stamp out smuggling, often from neighbouring Benin, with rice being one of the main targets.

.Reuters

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