Nigeria has about 12.2 million rice farmers expected to substantially bridge the gap in its seven million metric tonnes rice demand.
Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
A rice mill located somewhere along the popular Ogoja Road in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, is a beehive of activities. On a daily basis, millers, merchants and other people who have one business or the other to do in the commercial centre, gather for transaction.
Milling machines commence operation from 9 a.m. and are switched off at 1pm or thereabout while the buying and selling of milled rice continue till 6 p.m. each day.
There is division of labour in the mill. There are engine operators who man the milling machines; those who parboil the rice; workers who evacuate the husks, those who stitch the bags and some others.
A worker, Mr Martin Okohu who hails from Oriuzor community in Ezza North Local Government Area said different species of rice are always available in the milling centre. They include R8 CP, 308, Max and Apia.
According to him, people come from far and near to patronise the operators in the mill. While some come to supply harvested rice for onward processing, some others simply come to purchase the finished product.
“There are different prices to each of the specie. You can get a bushel of R8 for between N5,000 and N5,200. If it is CP or 308, you can get it from N5,600. You can get max from N6,000. It has different types of colours.
“In this rice mill, the highest rice you can get that will meet your expectation when cooked is Abakaliki rice. That is, rice grown in Abakaliki soil. Before now, we called it Ikwo rice because the people of Ikwo specialise in the cultivation of such rice. But it is not only Ikwo people that cultivate it. Ezza, Izzi, Ezzamgbo and others do the same,” he said.
Okohu who is also a rice farmer explained that rice merchants come from different parts of the country to buy rice of whatever quantity. Why they come from far and near is because whatever quantity one wants in a day, even if you want one million bags, it will be provided unlike some other places in other states where you will have to spend two days or more,” said he.
A milling machine operator, who simply gave his name as Makojo, explained that in the course of removing husks from the paddy, series of processes are involved.
He said any operator who has a mastery of the milling processes would not have the challenges of having broken grains.
“When you are milling the rice and they are breaking, you reduce the blade here (pointing to the portion of the engine responsible for such.) If the paddy didn’t dry well while spread in the sun, you should remove the blade.”
Aside milling of rice, there is also de-stoning section responsible for the removal of stones and other impurities from the rice.
“De-stoning business is all about removing stones, the chaff, and other impurities. We also do polishing. After the destoning, you can polish them to make them look like the foreign rice,” he said.
Stakeholders in the Rice Mill, some of who include Chief William Ihewuokwu, Mr Obasi Augustine, and Mr Sunday Odii, an engineer, praised the state government for their efforts in ensuring improved rice productivity in the state.
This year, the state government has commenced the implementation of its agricultural policies to ensure that food is available to its countrymen. The Government said it targets two million metric tonnes of rice.
Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Emmanuel Nwobo, said the Governor David Umahi, has developed key strategies to boost agricultural productivity.
To further swell the exploits in rice production, he disclosed that the administration has mapped out a total of 58,437 hectares of land for the cultivation of rice and cassava in the 2018 farming season.
Nwobo told Daily Sun that already, a total of 35,636 farmers have been profiled to embark on the farming exercise for phases one and two of the farming sections, even as more hectares of land would be made available in subsequent phases.
“Every part of the state, whether upland or lowland, must be cultivated this year. We are going to procure hundreds of thousands of new breed of rice, FARO 44, and other breeds of rice to be shared to farmers.
“We are already producing fertilizer here: NPK 12:12:17 and NPK 20:10:10. And these are to be shared to the farmers for application to their crops. We have surveyed every available land space for agriculture especially for rice farming,” he said.
When the Presidential Task Force on Rice and Wheat inspected rice farm projects in Ebonyi State in November 2016, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh said time will come when the state will generate N6 to N7 billion monthly on the local supply of rice.
Umahi also said the recent ban on sale and consumption of foreign rice in the state has stimulated demand for the local staple and enriched farmers in the state.
“The policy has created money in the hands of our farmers as a result of high demand of rice produced in the state,” he said.
Regardless, our investigation revealed that the challenges of the Ebonyi rice farmer are numerous. He lacks access to reliable supply of high-quality local paddy particularly as dry season
production is almost inexistent in the state; credit facilities are far-fetched, land preparation remains his nightmare; and post-harvest processing among others.
The administration of Chief Martin Elechi established three state-of-the-art rice mills in the three senatorial districts: Ikwo (Central), Iboko (North) and Oso Edda (South), but unfortunately, two of them have remained idle since installation. Many farmers also complained that they hardly get value for their efforts because of poor yield.
Nigeria has about 12.2 million rice farmers expected to substantially bridge the gap in its seven million metric tonnes rice demand. The country spends over $22 billion (N7 trillion) annually on importation of various food items like wheat, rice, fish, and poultry products among others, but the Muhammadu Buhari administration has placed 70 per cent import duty on rice.
Ogbeh recently said government’s strategic interventions, especially through the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers’ programme had reduced rice import from 644,000 to 20,000 metric tons, according to reports from the Thai Rice Exporters Association.