Nigeria is not the world’s second-largest producer of rice as recently claimed by the Buhari administration.
By Samuel Ogundipe
Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, made the claim on February 18 while addressing university students in Abuja.
“As I speak to you now, Nigeria just achieved the record of the second largest producer of rice in the world. The rice revolution just started a year ago,” Mr. Shehu, senior special assistant on media to President Muhammadu Buhari was quoted by The Cable as saying.
Mr. Shehu later defended his claim on Twitter, and cited CNN as his source.
Coming at a time of severe economic crisis, the comment appeared aimed at reassuring an increasingly disenchanted public.
But that claim is entirely false, as Nigeria is not even amongst the world’s top 10 producers of rice, a PREMIUM TIMES examination shows.
In November 2016, the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, said Nigeria’s rice production level stood at 3.5 million metric tonnes, while the country’s consumption stood at seven million metric tons.
In calculating Nigeria’s production output, PREMIUM TIMES will rely on statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, an agency of the United Nations that tackles hunger around the world.
In addition, PREMIUM TIMES obtained an unpublished data for rice production from the National Bureau of Statistics.
This assessment will also rely on data provided by the United States Department of Agriculture, which tracks rice production outputs across the world. The USDA ranking is updated monthly.
In its 2016 estimates, the Food and Agriculture Organisation projected that Nigeria will produce 2.9 million metric tonnes, which it described as being “up slightly” from 2015 figures.
The FAO data from 2015 showed that Nigeria produced 4.8 million metric tonnes of rice paddy. This placed Nigeria at number 17 in the top 20 producers’ ranking.
The NBS data exclusively seen by this newspaper showed that Nigeria produced 7.8 million metric tonnes of rice paddy in 2016, up slightly from 7.5 million in 2015.
The 2016 data produced by the USDA ranks 78 countries, according to IndexMundi, a website that collates, ranks and republishes statistical data from original sources.
Nigeria is missing from the list’s top 10 rice-producing countries of 2016. This category has China, with 146.5 million metric tonnes, at the top, and Japan —with estimated 7.8 million metric tonnes— at the bottom.
The second position is occupied by India, which produced 106. 5 million metric tonnes that year. Other Asian countries that dominate the list include Indonesia: 36.6 million; Bangladesh: 34,5 million; Vietnam: 27.8 million; Thailand: 18,6 million; Myanmar: 12.5 million and the Philippines: 12.5 million.
Brazil, at number nine, is the only country outside Asia in the top 10 rice producing countries.
On this list, Nigeria stands at number 18, with a production output of 2.7 million metric tonnes for 2016.
Although this is lower, the bureau of statistics figure—7.8 million metric tonnes – is still a far cry from what is needed to surpass the Asian countries.
Even where the 7.8 million metric tonnes is used for this ranking, Nigeria would at best rank 10th.
Mr. Shehu did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ request for clarification. But he said on Twitter on Monday that he based his assertion on a report by CNN.
To buttress his point, Mr. Shehu said Nigeria had recently become a major exporter of grains to other African countries.
“Don’t forget that since October last year, Nigeria has been feeding many parts of West Africa, North and Central Africa,” Mr. Shehu said. “Many of these countries have been shopping in Nigeria for rice, sorghum, sesame and millet.”
He said the government had started collating figures to establish Nigeria’s rice production output and will make its conclusion public.
It is not clear whether the figure he was referring to is the NBS’ 7.8 million metric tonnes PREMIUM TIMES obtained.
Mr. Shehu’s claim was roundly rejected on social media, with many users pointing at the irony of Nigerians paying more for a product that should be abundantly available.
From a maximum N10,000 barely three years ago, a 50 kilogram bag of rice now sells for above N20,000 across the country, according to Rice.com.ng. Only in January 2016, the rice retailer sold the same quantity for N12,500 or less across the country.
At Jumia, a 50 kilogram bag of rice retails for as high as N25,000.
Richard-Mark Mbaram, an agricultural economics expert, said Mr. Shehu’s “claim cannot be substantiated in actual fact.”
Mr. Mbaram, editor of Agro Nigeria, an online-based platform with primary focus on activities in the agricultural sector, also agreed that Nigeria is yet to meet its consumption demands.
“We’re not even producing enough to feed ourselves,” Mr. Mbaram said. “Saying we’re number two is dangerous as it could make those tasked with addressing the challenges become complacent.”
He said the focus should be on improving Nigeria’s average output per hectare rather than making “claims that will only distract us from addressing challenges in the agricultural sector.”
For example, Mr. Mbaram said budget estimates for agriculture stood at N92 billion, an amount he said could not even fund research in other climes.
“We’re saying we want to diversify from oil because its prices are dwindling, yet we budgeted N92 billion for agriculture which is the sector that everybody agrees the focus must shift to,” he said.
Social media users also circulated a screengrab that depicted the CNN broadcast Mr. Shehu was probably alluding to. In the broadcast, the station showed Nigeria’s production output at 2.7 million metric tonnes; consumption placed at five million metric tonnes; import stood at two million. The data was also sourced from USDA/IndexMundi.
The USDA/IndexMundi ranking showed Nigeria as the second-largest importer of rice in the world. In 2016, the country imported two million metric tonnes, behind China at five million metric tonnes.
It is also unclear whether the presidential spokesperson mistook Nigeria’s import ranking for production output.
Mr. Shehu said: “Nigeria just achieved the record of the second largest producer of rice in the world.”
Available figures show this claim to be incorrect.