Rice production gains traction in northern states – Businessday

The importation of rice, a major staple food in Nigeria which accounts for over N400 billion out of a food import bill now in excess of N1.5 trillion is expected to reduce drastically as farmers across the country, particularly the North, expand operations and improve on their farm yields.

The price of rice has gone up astronomically since the beginning of this year when a 50kg bag was sold for N10, 000, but sells for as much as N23, 000.

The importation of rice, done mostly through illegal smuggling routes has considerably added to the pressure on the naira, as more demand is made for the US dollar used to import the commodity.

The policy and strategy document released by the ministry of agriculture shows that rice production in the country which stands at 2.3 million metric tonnes has a four million tonne deficit from the 6.3 million metric tonnes demand.

The deficit has been attributed to insufficient supply chain integration which remains a nagging issue in achieving sustenance.

BusinessDay’s findings in Kebbi state, the pioneer location for the Anchors Borrowers Scheme by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has revealed that about 200,000 farmers participated in the just concluded dry season farming, leading to the realisation of 1.1 million metric tonnes of rice paddy which was based on an average yield of 5.5 tonnes per hectare.

Muhammed Augie, Chairman, Rice farmers Association of Nigeria, Kebbi state chapter, told BusinessDay “After the dry season has gone through, the wet season will give not less than 700,000 metric tonnes, added to the 1.1 million tonnes from dry season farming, will result in a total of 1.8 million metric tonnes in yield for this year alone.” “Judging from what happened this year, the harvest was good, likewise the price for many farmers. There were farmers not cultivating rice but who had land and based on the outcomes they have seen this season, there is going to be an increase in participation and the acreage to be cultivated. “Next year, we expect at least double what we have harvested this year. With a projection of 2.5 million metric tonnes of paddy in dry season alone,” said Augie.

Out of the 200,000 farmers who participated in the concluded planting season, 78,000 of the farmers were engaged under the Anchor Borrower programme of the CBN to cultivate one hectare each. “This has given three major advantages; the creation of over 500,000 jobs, people have also increased their economic base, and there were more than 40,000 millionaires this year alone, who attained this status from growing rice” Garuba Dandiga, Kebbi state commissioner for agriculture told BusinessDay during an investigative visit to the state.

Dandiga added that someone who before rice production could not boast of N20,000 haswithin four months become one who can lay claim to one million naira as his income. The booming rice production has also been attracting investors in rice milling, as new plants spring up in different parts of Kebbi and other states, including Kwara and Sokoto.

Abdullahi Zuru, general manager, Labana Mills, said the company’s major concern is that “all millers have focused their attention on Kebbi state. So whatever quantity is produced, we won’t get what we want simply because all millers in Nigeria are here or either their agents, joining us to struggle to buy the rice paddy produced here. If the (anchors borrowers) programme is extended to more states, the pressure will be less. And millers will also go to other states; we would also go to other states and gradually all milers will be able to get their requirements.”

Zuru also explained that what the farmers need most importantly are fertiliser and good seeds when they need it, not late, and with some money for farm clearing and land preparation, they will produce more than what has been recorded. He however also lamented the high cost of operation, saying “in a situation where you pay Federal Inland Revenue Service, state government board of internal revenue, and local government board of internal revenue and then other ancillary levies, it makes the operating environment very financially cumbersome. Added to this is the cost of power supply which has been tripled.“These factors account for the high cost of Nigerian milled rice which almost makes the smuggled rice a better deal,” Zuru told BusinessDay.

His sentiments were echoed by Amit Gupta, general manager at a new rice mill being constructed by Wacot Limited in Argungu, Kebbi state.
“Smuggled rice is still a reality which needs more effort to be curbed, even though government has been trying its best,” Gupta said.

“From what we’ve heard, the productivity is pretty poor; we need to double the productivity to get it in line with what obtains in other successful rice growing nations.“The cost of operation is indeed high and the main factor there is fuel, power supply is erratic at best and the equipments being used are expensive ones which are very sensitive to power fluctuations,” Gupta added.

The millers expressed the thought that by giving tax holidays for perhaps five years, either shelving or suspending levies for a period of time and giving farmers facilities to produce more; this will lower cost of operation and also attract other people into the business.

The successes that have been recorded in rice production are threatened, not only by the high cost of operation, but also flooding which is affecting many farms, particularly in Kebbi state. Many farms in Arungu, Jega, Yauri, and Bagodo have gotten more than they bargained for in terms of rain fed cultivation.

The situation has resulted in uncontrolled flooding which farmers lament has damaged several farm lands.

Several rivers meander through the state, including River Rima which stretches 150 km, with Fadama banks. In some places it is about 15 km wide, there is also the  River Niger which is 175 km then also in some places 30 km width. Also, there is River Zamfara, all criss-crossing Kebbi state.

BusinessDay correspondent saw some of these affected farms in Jega and Argungu areas of the state, with rice submerged beyond a level where it could thrive productively. In many instances as well,  crops under cultivation,including wheat, millet, beans were destroyed by the flood, leading to further losses for farmers who had placed their hopes on the projected harvests from those farmlands.