Stories by Steve Agbota
DESPITE the huge investments of successive governments coupled with the current interventions of the Buhari administration, Nigeria still cannot meet the demands for local rice consumption, as poor services by government agencies have induced a noticeable decline in rice production, while importation and smuggling are on the increase.
Nigeria abandoned local rice production by focusing and spending billions of dollars importing foreign rice until it was hit by acute foreign exchange scarcity. This has given rise to the consumption of local products in the country.
The crisis has made locally produced rice to receive attention from Nigerians as the price of imported rice has gone up significantly across the country.
Last May when the Federal Government banned rice importation through land borders, in less than two months, the price of the commodity skyrocketed out of the reach of most Nigerian consumers, as a bag of rice, which sold for N9, 000 before the ban, now sells for between N15, 000 and N17, 000.
Banning rice importation was aimed at encouraging and boosting local production and also reducing high import bill of over N650 billion annually.
However, local production has not been adequate enough to meet the consumption of the rapidly growing population because farmers were not encouraged to go into local rice farming before the ban. Therefore, there exists an imbalance between rice production and consumption.
Few months later, forex scarcity forced importation of rice to be reduced drastically since they could no longer source hard currency to import rice. This left importers no choice than to patronise local rice, which led to scarcity of the commodity in the markets.
Besides Dollar crisis, Daily Sun investigation shows that part of the problems which led to the scarcity of local rice include provision of high-yielding rice varieties, fertilisers, irrigation, shortage of processing facilities, funding and agro-chemicals for the farmers in spite of Federal Government interventions.
As several African nations set target for their countries to be self- sufficient in rice production including Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara who wants his country to be self-sufficient in rice by 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari has set 2018 as a target for West Africa’s biggest producer and importer of the staple to end inward shipments. Mali, Guinea and Sierra Leone are already nearly self-sufficient, with Mali’s rice harvest covering 91 per cent of domestic demand, according to AfricaRice.
However, CBN reserved $200 million last year to provide low-interest loans to rice and wheat farmers as part of a government campaign to boost agriculture and reduce food imports, which weigh heavily on the local currency. Among large-scale rice buyers and processors is a local unit of Olam International Ltd. More than half of local demand of about six million tonnes is currently supplied by imports in a nation of 180 million people.
It was revealed that Olam Rice Farm, in Nasarawa State, which is locally produced rice is currently having good time in the market as people are beginning to appreciate the tremendous improvement in the quality of local rice.
Daily Sun learnt that few companies processing rice in the country don’t have enough paddies currently to meet their factory capacity, as they would be willing to buy the product from farmers anywhere in the country.
With the current performance of the product in the market, the processors need more paddy rice but unfortunately they cannot find paddy anywhere at the moment. The processors don’t know if there are farmers who still have the product, as they would be willing to buy from them to meet the capacity of their processing plants.
A rice farmer, Benjamin Augustus, said that Nigeria is capable of feeding its population and serve as the rice hub for Africa but laments that the major problem is the lack of political-will. He said that the relevant government agencies have not been effective and efficient in the provision of basic agricultural inputs and services.
Augustus said that the agencies’ poor service delivery has induced a noticeable decrease in rice production, while rice importation and smuggling are also major setback for local rice farmers.
He said what farmers need for the development of the sector was a public-private partnership to implement programmes, while the government provides the enabling environment for stability and growth.
According to the Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Chief Femi Oke, local rice farmers are just coming on board and many farmers have been encouraged in the local rice farming activities, saying rice importation has been banned and many farmers are now interested in rice production.
He added: “There are few production end, where the paddy could be processed in Nigeria. Few years ahead, the production and the supply will be better. The Federal Government is trying under the Commercial Agriculture Department Project (CADP) and they are having pilot scheme in five states; Lagos, Kano, Enugu, Bayelsa and Kwara where they could site some of the projects in order to encourage those that are into the business.
So CADP is taking it up both at the federal and state levels and it is part of their project to assist in this area to have some locations where some of these machines could be sited for farmers to easily process their commodities. These projects will even encourage those who are not into the business to be there, hence, they can easily get where they will process on time.”
Meanwhile, the Marketing Director of Crystal Gold Mills and Agro Allied Enterprise, Adetunji Solomon, said that local rice was scarce in the markets because of the time frame given to farmers and processors such that when a farmer or a processor requests for facilities and the time frame in which such facility was processed was a major setback for rice farmers.
He explained: “Some farmers are not familiar with use of modern equipment, and majority of the farmers are not commercial farmers.
The lack of unified seed also contributes to the scarcity of local rice. Most of the farmers that are planting are based on the required seeds by their locality, which might not be accepted in other areas.
For example, Igbemo rice is planted here in Ekiti State, while in Ogun, we have Ofada rice.”
He advised the Federal Government to adopt a method of fast tracking facilities for rice farmers in order to access loans at the right time and also find a way around collateral to make it easier for farmers and processors.