Why Institutions Matter: A Story About Rice

I’ve taken more than a passing interest in Nigeria’s agriculture plans lately so I was roaming around the internet when I stumbled on a couple of documents. Nothing to strange about the documents in and of themselves except that they were written by two different sets of people and at different times meaning that we can look at them side by side and make some interesting observations and perhaps a wider point about the troubles that so easily beset us as a nation

Exhibit A: An Assessment of the Operations of the Presidential Initiatives on Agriculture in Nigeria: 2001 – 2007 – written by some Central Bank of Nigerian in-house analysts in June 2011.

Exhibit B: Rice Value Chain Transformation Plan (2012) – written by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) after a tour of rice production across Nigeria

The first document assesses the impact of various government policies to boost agriculture production in Nigeria across a variety of crops and sectors. The second one obviously focuses solely on rice. So to be able to make comparisons, I will focus only on the rice segment of the first document.

The first thing that jumped at me from Exhibit A under the Increased Rice Production and Export Programme (IRPEP) was this (page 14):

The overall objective of the initiative on Increased Rice Production and Export was to attain self sufficiency in the local production of rice in the short term (2005) and to produce for export in the medium term (2007). The project was expected to promote the production of 6 million tonnes of milled rice from 10.3 million tonnes of paddy by year 2005.

If that sounds familiar, it is because it is. Because when you go to Exhibit B, you’ll find this (page 2):

The goal is self sufficiency in rice production and complete substitution of imported rice by year 2015. Products in focus are parboiled milled rice and unparboiled milled white rice. The target is 6 million metric tonnes per annum of locally produced and internationally competitive milled rice by 2015.

Controlling for the ‘mere’ 10 year gap between when we set the targets initially and when we have now pushed it to, those goals look almost identical. So what happened? Well Exhibit A tells us that we managed to hit 4.8 million tonnes of rice in 2007 i.e. 80% of the target that was set. Production was also steadily increasing from 3m tonnes in 2002 to 4.2m tonnes in 2006.

I cant find any data for the 2008 – 2011 period so we have to engage in some educated guesswork. At the time of IRPEP, our domestic consumption was put at 5 million tonnes per annum hence the plan to produce 6 million tonnes and export the extra 1 million tonnes.

Adding up the projected rice production numbers for 2012 in the RVCTP document we get a shocking 601,459 tonnes for the year. In other words the ministry was expecting less than 1 million tonnes of rice to be produced in 2012 in Nigeria. The caveat to add to this is that a report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in January this year estimated our local rice production at 2.85 million tonnes. Whichever figure you believe, we suffered a disastrous collapse in domestic production somewhere between 2007 and 2012 of almost 50%. It is also not news that we have now become the world’s largest importer of rice with a projected 2.7 million tonnes of imports for 2013. Ironically, one of the IRPEP achievements listed in Exhibit A is that we managed to reduce our imports to less than 1 million tonnes in 2007 i.e. in around 6 years we have increased our imports by 270% while consumption has only increased by 20%.

This is the story of Nigeria and one that we should take a minute to reflect on. There is no amount of progress that we make as a nation that cannot be rolled back in a short period of time. We can afford to take absolutely nothing for granted if we want to get into the habit of continuous development. Those who say we should strengthen our institutions are right on the money – it is very hard for one person or ten to give us sustained development because people leave power or positions of authority and ultimately they die. We can take ten steps forward but the sin that doth so easily beset us and locks us in the habit of under achievement is never far away…we are like a nation trying to kick a long standing drug habit. Only a fool will say it’s going to be a walk in the park.

Without naming names, some people also work quite hard from morning till night and by way of securing their legacy, hand over their work to a random person who doesn’t share their values or has his own ideas. Nobody should then be surprised when things don’t go according to plan. It is uncanny that this rolling back of whatever small progress was made happened somewhere between 2007 and 2011.

This is all very important because we are back here again as you can see from the targets set out in the RVCTP. We now have an energetic minister who is going about his job with seemingly boundless energy. It is almost guaranteed that the person who comes after him wont run around like an energizer bunny moving to gear 6 what the current minister perhaps left in gear 5 (NAFDAC after Dora Akunyili comes to mind). And where will that leave us? Will we hit 5 million tonnes in 2015, the minister leaves office and then in 2019 we are wondering how and why we have become the world’s biggest importer of rice again after another ‘surprising’ collapse in domestic production.

This is just rice. As you know, there is nothing Nigeria does not have a plan for somewhere written with characteristic brio with targets aimed for the stars because the moon is too puny for us. What is perhaps most annoying or painful is that failure never seems to stop us from doing the same things over and over again while expecting different results.

In 2001, the Taliban decided to destroy some 150 ft tall Buddha statues in the Hindu Kush mountains in Central Afghanistan. The statues had been there for 1,700 years and would always be a potential source of tourist income for the country if left alone. It took the Taliban just one weekend using dynamites to blow up the statues.

Nothing is secured or guaranteed to remain there just because it is there. The most dangerous time for progress is often when people have relaxed and take things for granted. In one fell swoop, years of achievement can be rolled back and nations can find themselves worse than wherever they were coming from in the place. It has taken no more than a week to destroy confidence in Cyprus’ banking sector.

If you see anything good happening in Nigeria, keep an eye on it and think of ways to keep it going. If you close your eyes for one minute, even the little you are ‘managing’ will be taken away from you.

This is why we also must be suspicious of ‘young’ people who are currently running about declaring themselves as change agents and demanding to be loved. It’s not so much that they are lying, it’s more that they often don’t know what they are talking about. A lot of the arguments I hear these days seem to be that if we vote the ‘right people’ we will get, drum roll, the ‘right results’. And that somehow, contrary to what the Bard said, we somehow all have the art to find the mind’s construction in the face or the words that roll out of people’s mouths when they are seeking our votes.

Maybe the first question we should be asking anyone who puts themselves about for office in 2015 is – what gains do you think we have made in the last 4 years and what are your plans for securing them?

It would be absolutely mental to hand the keys to anyone – incumbent or opposition – who cannot answer this question convincingly. Enough of this one step forward and two steps back style of development.

We haven’t got all day.

FF

P.S Spend some time reading both documents just to compare how eerily similar they are.

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5 thoughts on “Why Institutions Matter: A Story About Rice

  1. Pingback: Why institutions matter: A story about rice | YNaija

  2. We have a pervasive culture of not maintaining stuff, infrastructure, policies, etc…coupled with our intense love for material things and a lack of work ethic/culture and disrespect for systems/institutions. For some reason, Nigerians will gladly form cabals to exploit an area of interest regardless of benefits or detriments to the greater good. Ah well, we shall keep analysing and doing what we can individually.

  3. Feyi, even you sef get “boundless energy”

    There is a question hiding within your post. I’ll summarize it thus:

    Can a broken nation like Nigeria be fixed by gradual improvements? Or do we need a radical systemic (political/economic) jumpstart? A shock therapy perhaps?

    I don’t have answers but I’m searching.

  4. Feyi, excellent article as usual. Yes, a lot of us have our eyes fixed on the wrong place.it is true that a well-intentioned imperial executive branch can make good things happen, but our biggest problem is actually the unelected civil service machine. Our civil service is mostly corrupt and incompetent, are the enabler of our ills and reversers of our progress. They are the ones who will compromise the the naive energetic new kid, they are the curators of the ghost workers database, discovering them when someone asks questions and adding them back when no one is looking. And though they are never in your face, they are always in place. Until we are able to permanently fix the public service, we are going nowhere. So perhaps the second question we should be putting to office seekers should be “what are you going to do to strengthen our institutions and transform the public service”

  5. Pingback: Why Institutions Matter: A Story About Rice | YNaija OPINION

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