Olanrewaju Lawal, Birnin Kebbi
Milling, which is the stage where the rice paddy is processed and converted to potable rice, is very crucial in the rice value chain. In Nigeria, rice milling has been a challenge owing to limited number of milling systems in rice cultivating states. However, the picture is becoming brighter as more sophisticated mills are being established across the country.
According to a stakeholder in the rice value chain, Dr. Oluwarotimi Fashola, the General Manager, Project, Elephant Group, “there are two sets of milling systems in Nigeria, the local milling and the integrated mills. The local mills are the Abakaliki, Lafia, Bida, etc., which are conglomerates of small millers with less sophisticated equipment, no colour sorting and small de-stoning machines. They account for 60 to 70 per cent of processing currently going on in the country. The integrated mills are more sophisticated and come in different capacities. They have de-stoning facilities, colour sorting facilities and capacity to produce different brands and standards of rice. They account for the balance of about 30 per cent.
He explained that, “in 2016, we had just about 25 integrated mills. Now, that has increased to almost 35-40. By next year, because more mills are coming in (it takes about nine months to one year for a mill to be constructed), we should be hitting about 50 and its increasing.”
Of this number of rice mills, Kebbi State has two, which are functional at full capacity, including Labana Rice Mill located in Birnin Kebbi and Wacot Rice Mill in Argungu. They are into the production of parboiled rice. Besides these, Daily Sun investigation revealed that Dangote Group is also concluding arrangement to establish a new rice mill in the state.
While speaking with Daily Sun on the company’s readiness to meet up with Nigerians’ expectations, General Manager of Labana Rice Mill, Birnin Kebbi, Alhaji Abdullahi Idris Zuru, explained that the company is installing new machines in its phase two to ensure the mill attains 20 metric tonnes per hour capacity.
According to him, “Labana Rice Mill is steadily progressing. We are creating more employment opportunities, sufficiency in rice production in addition to economic empowerment of farmers and business communities.
“It is not only Labana Rice Mill that can meet up with the expectations of Nigerians. There are other indigenous rice mills and all of them have the capacity to satisfy the needs of Nigerians. Though there are few challenges including saboteurs but with time, we shall meet up with the 100 per cent demand of Nigerians. Few weeks ago, the Rice Processing Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) met with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor and we dialogued with him. We told him our production capacity and he directed us, the rice mills across the country, especially those enjoying facilities from CBN, to work out modalities for supplying adequate rice to parts of the country. He particularly mentioned South-West and South-East where rice mills are limited, which we obliged.
“Based on this direction, all rice mills in Nigeria are supplying about 70 to 80 per cent of their production to South-West and South-East respectively. So, about 30 to 20 per cent of our production is supplied to the Northern region of the country. That has been able to meet the demands of Nigerians.”
The Labana Rice Mill boss further explained that, “in the course of our distribution, there are few distributors who, in anticipation of a hike in the price of rice ahead of festivities, might decide to hoard the product and this could cause artificial scarcity. For now, we can take care of 60-70 per cent demand of Nigerians.
“Again, existing rice mills are expanding just as new ones are coming. For instance, here in Labana Rice Mill, we are expanding our first phase from 16 metric tonnes per hour to 20 metric tonnes per hour. We are now constructing second phase with the capacity of 20 metric tonnes per hour. If all these are completed, we will have 40 metric tonnes per hour and if you multiply it by 22 hours per day, we would have about 880 metric tonnes.
“So, by the first quarter of next year, Labana Rice Mill will be producing at 40 metric tonnes per hour. We also heard that Dangote Group is coming to establish its rice mill in Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara and other northern states. With these new rice mills springing up, they will not only contribute to the nation’s economy, they will employ thousands of Nigerians while rice farmers will have ready market to sell their paddy rice.”
He added that, “the border closure is an eye opener for us. It is creating an opportunity for us to showcase our indigenous rice. Our people have seen it now that our indigenous rice is delicious and more nutritious than the foreign rice, which might have expired before being smuggled into the country. I want to assure our people that by next year, Nigeria will be among top rice exporters in the world. We have no problem in getting the paddy rice for our production. The only thing is that the price is fluctuating and we are not bothering about that as long as we are meeting up with local demand.”
While speaking with Daily Sun, Kebbi State Chairman of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Alhaji Muhammad Sahabi Augie, said that Nigerians should not panic over purchasing of parboiled rice during the yuletide and other seasons. He noted that rice farmers have started harvesting their paddy rice across the country, stressing that what the country needs now is establishment of more rice mills to create new market for rice farmers.
“There was no time in history when Nigerian farmers could not feed the nation with our indigenous rice. The only issue is that we have the potential but we depend on foreign rice; anything foreign, including foreign clothes and that has killed the zeal of Nigerian farmers to produce more paddy rice.
“But now that we are facing the reality, our farmers have all it takes to cultivate and market our indigenous rice. What we lacked in the past was adequate markets for paddy rice. If we produced, no market but now, Nigerians are ready to consume indigenous rice so there is market to sell our paddy rice and we too are ready to produce more. Because by doing that, we are contributing to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the nation’s economy and our people are consuming it patriotically. We are also creating employment because more farmers will go back to farms, more rice mills will be established and our economy will be buoyant.”
Speaking on the prices of bags of paddy rice, Augie recalled that before the border closure, a bag of paddy rice was sold at N8,000 and N9,500, and N10,000 when borders were closed. “Now, a bag of paddy rice is N8,500 because there is now bumper harvest. Paddy rice available in abundance in every market you go to now. That is to tell you that Nigerian farmers have the capacity to feed this nation with home grown rice. Our people should not panic. There is enough paddy rice everywhere. What we need now is more rice mills to be established to create more markets for rice farmers,” he said.