With the exponential growth in local rice production, stakeholders say Nigeria has moved closer to ending rice importation.
Olakunle Olafioye, Olanrewaju Lawal (Kebbi), Geoffrey Anyanwu (Awka) and Obinna Odogwu (Abakaliki)
The claim by the United States Department of Agriculture Culture Agency that Nigeria is likely to become the world’s second largest rice importer in 2019, may not hold water after all as findings by Sunday Sun revealed that the nation is on course in its determination to achieve self-sufficiency in rice production.
In its latest report, Rice Outlook, released recently, the US had projected that Nigeria would become second largest rice importer this year, with China becoming world’s largest importer of rice.
Contrary to this claim, findings by Sunday Sun in some select rice producing states in the country showed that the Federal Government is on course with its commitment to making the nation self-reliant in rice production.
As parts of the current administration’s commitment to boost rice production in the country, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the Anchor Borrowers Programme on November 17, 2015.
The programme is aimed at providing farm inputs in cash and kind to small-holder farmers in order to boost local production of commodities, including rice; stabilize inputs supply to agro-processors and address the country’s negative balance of payments on food.
The result is the exponential growth in local rice production, which stakeholders claimed has now moved Nigeria closer to ending rice importation.
Sunday Sun gathered that within two years, rice importation from Thailand fell from 644,131 metric tons in September 2015 to 20,000 metric tons in September 2017, a drop of over 90 per cent.
The development is contrary to the claim made by the American report: “On an annual basis, consumption and residual use is projected higher in 2018/19 in Angola, Benin, Burkina-Faso, Cambodia, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.
“China and Nigeria are projected to remain the largest rice importing countries in 2019, followed by the EU, Cote d’Ivoire, and Iran. Nigeria and Egypt are projected to account for the bulk of the 2019 import increase. Imports in 2019 are also projected to be larger than a year earlier for Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, EU, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Mali, Senegal, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
“Global rice consumption (including a residual component) in 2018/19 is projected at a record 488.4 million tons, down 0.1 million tons from the previous forecast but up more than 1 per cent from a year earlier.”
Stakeholders in Nigeria, however, dismissed the report, describing it as erroneous and misleading just as findings by Sunday Sun in some rice producing states confirmed federal and state governments’ relentless efforts to make Nigeria a force to be reckoned with in rice production.
In Kebbi State, despite the devastating effects of flood this year, about 200,000 rice farmers who cultivated over 500,000 hectares rice farm still recorded bumper harvest.
Findings by Sunday Sun showed that only the rice farmers along the banks of River Rima and River Niger were mostly affected by the flood while other rice farmers in the high land (outside river banks) recorded good harvest.
Speaking with Sunday Sun, Chairman, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), in the state, Alhaji Mohammed Sahabi Augie, disclosed that since rice farming was not restricted to the rainy season, flooding which was experienced in many local government areas in the state did not affect production of paddy rice for rice mills in the state.
Augie explained: “Our membership is increasing every day and that is why more rice mills are springing up in the state. Before, it was only Labana Rice Mill, but today, we have WACOT in Argungu, there is another one in Kamba and Dangote Group is planning to establish their rice-processing compact in Yauri. If they have not been getting enough raw materials, that is, paddy rice, how would they be establishing more rice mills?
“I can tell you today that what we have harvested so far could sustain our rice mills in the state for the next six months. So, before they exhaust, we would have recorded another bumper harvest.” Augie while reacting to the report that Nigeria would be among the largest importers of rice in 2019, described the report by the US agency as propaganda aimed at rubbishing the Federal Government’s efforts.
“Nigerians and rice farmers have not had it so good like this. Today, there an organized market for rice farmers to sell their paddy rice directly to the companies and making profits not through agents again who have been making money and subjecting us to debts. What I think state governments should do now is to introduce their own agriculture initiatives just as the Federal Government introduced the Anchored Borrowers Scheme, which has yielded positive impact today. We are getting more new rice farmers, therefore, there is a need to have more extension service agents to teach our new entrants technology and skills on rice plantation.”
In Ebonyi State, the Commissioner for Agriculture, Moses Nomeh, confirmed to Sunday Sun that the state has been receiving support from the Federal Government to boost its rice production.
“We are benefiting from the Federal Government’s Anchor Borrowers Scheme. And it is part of the things we are using to drive agriculture in Ebonyi State. In 2017, we got N3 billion and we distributed it to 14,642 farmers in the state.
“We are also benefiting from the Federal Government’s loan. We have also got equipment from the Federal Government. For example, they gave us threshers which we are sharing now,” he added.
But despite the support received from the Federal Government, Sunday Sun gathered that rice farmers in Ebonyi State still face a number of challenges.
Findings showed that a good number of rice farmers are yet to have access to reliable supply of high quality local paddy, particularly as the dry season production is almost non-existent in the state.
Similarly, access to credit facility is still a major challenge just as land preparation remains the farmers’ nightmare; and post-harvest processing, among others.
An executive member of the Abakaliki Rice Mill Owners Association (ARMOA) and Rice Millers Association (RMA), Mr Augustine Obasi, told Sunday Sun that in addition, flooding, illegal activities of rice importers and smugglers are other sources of concern to rice farmers in the state.
In Anambra State, the state government’s determination to hit 600,000 metric tons in rice production is on course as the state currently produces 345, 000 metric tons.
Confirming this to Sunday Sun, the Technical Assistant to the Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Chinedu Nwankwo, said: “When it comes to rice production in Anambra, the state currently has 345,000 metric tons and going by the target the state has from the governor’s administrative blueprint, we are expected to hit 600,000 metric tonnes by 2020.
“When it comes to the possibility of achieving it, yes the state can achieve it based on the machinery the government, the governor and the initiatives of the commissioner have put on ground. The state has a very good focus.
“Over N3.5 billion has been set aside to ensure land development and the support Governor Willie Obiano is giving in terms of provision inputs. For this year, a total sum of N195 million has been set aside for the procurement of inputs to achieve the expected target of the year for the state.
“Also looking at the partnership and investment system of the state, now the state has very good investors on ground, people like Coscharis Group, which has over 3000 to 5000 hectares of land it is cultivating.
Also there are other investors in rice production and so on, all these are being channeled to achieve the set target.”
In terms of reducing post-harvest loss, the state, Sunday Sun gathered, is strategically set to assist processors by providing equipment and other necessary support.
In spite of this, rice farmers in the state still have to contend with flooding, according to Okonkwo.
“One of the major challenges the state is facing at the moment is flooding. Anambra is one of the states affected by the flood in the country and a good number of our farmlands were affected. We have over 20,000 hectares of rice farms that were affected and it was devastating, especially when these farmers had already positioned themselves for harvest, only to encounter flood. It was a major setback.
“But be that as it may, the state is not relenting. Not long ago, the governor launched the dry season farming and rice production is one of the areas by repositioning the state in provision of water pump for dry season, irrigation facilities in some locations like Ayamelum, Ogbaru and Ihiala. Also a good number of farmers have been assisted with water pumps and tube wells.
“Apart from that we have been able to observe that the residue moisture complex of the state is good enough to enable production of dry season rice that will give, you know yield rate in dry season is too high, so what we are doing in Anambra is very strategic and transparent in that aspect and I believe we are on course.
“2020 is possibility and is even the target of the ministry for the dry season where we say that zero hunger is possible. Not only zero hunger, we are also looking at healthy farmer, healthy farm scheme, so with this two schemes, we will be able to increase and if not surpass the expected target in rice production,” he boasted.
Despite the success recorded so far in its bid to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production, the Federal Government is not relenting. As part of the effort to crash the price of local rice, the Federal Government has disclosed its plan to disburse N60 billion to subsidise rice production.
The Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, made the disclosure after a meeting of the National Council on Food Security presided over by President Buhari last year.
Ogbe said: “There is a subsidy programme coming up. Government has approved N60 billion to support the rice industry to bring down prices. But we are going to handle it differently.
“We don’t want to get into petroleum subsidy problem. So, a committee is looking at it with the Ministry of Finance. We think that it is better for us to lend money to the millers, farmers and distributors at a very low interest rate, so that the capital doesn’t disappear, so they have cheaper credit to do their business that should impact on the price of rice in the market. When we are ready we will let you know.”
He added that the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) had concluded plans to restructure the Bank of Agriculture, to make it possible for investors and farmers to buy shares in the bank.
“It will eventually become the farmers’ bank. And we hope that in the process this will bring down interest rates reasonably maybe five percent or a little higher, so that agriculture will become attractive and people can raise capital to invest,” he said.
Ogbeh also said that the Federal Government had approved N24 billion as compensation for flood victims across the country.