Here Comes Nigeria’s Rice Revolution

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Nigeria’s Rice Revolution, The Federal Government’s economic diversification efforts in the agric sector appear to be yielding dividends. With the harvest of local rice, especially by Lagos and Kebbi states, the prices of the staple food have dipped, raising the hope that the ‘rice revolution’ will manifest this year, DANIEL ESSIET reports.

Rice is a staple food in Nigeria. But it’s not just a food that satisfies hunger, it enriches meals and cultures of many Nigerians.

It was, horice-tonnagewever, not a surprise that many Nigerians were worried when the price of rice rose sharply from N10,000 second quarter to about N26,000 towards the end of the last quarter. The spike in rice prices sent shockwaves around the country. The price hike caused many people to panic. Expectedly, perhaps, as more than half of the nation’s population depends on rice for food, most of them the poorest of the poor.

At N18, 000 per bag, the price of rice was high enough to affect even the middle class.

A rice seller, Onyeka Abia, in Somolu expressed concern that the price hike would make consumers pay more for a cup of the staple. The situation was damaging government’s public support as more Nigerians became agitated since they could no longer afford rice. The situation was worsened by the enforcement of the ban on rice importation through the land borders.

The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) said rice importation through land borders remained banned and prohibited, warning that those caught violating the law would be arrested and prosecuted. The Service said those coming into the country legitimately through the seaports, where proper duties and extant charges are paid, will continue through the end of last year.

The Comptroller-General, NCS had also revealed that 24.992 metric tonnes of rice valued at N2.34 billion were imported between October 2015 and March 2016 before the ban. The reduced rice supplies from land importation plus the rising demand for the staple, affected its price. This further created artificial crisis, which jerked up its price. Some blamed inflation for the crisis, emphasising the role of a plummeting naira in a free market.

Indeed, the falling value of the naira was partly causing the price, not only of rice, but practically food stuff to skyrocket.

According to stakeholders, the fuel price made production and distribution of goods and services expensive.

A bag of rice that sold at N11,000 in January, six months after, sold at N13,000 through the borders.

Abia noted that spiraling rice prices have left Nigerians facing one of their worst food crisis.

Over the year, rice price eventually hit N27,000 a bag , while there has been no corresponding increase in wages.

Once self-sufficient in rice, Nigeria was listed as one of the world’s top importer of milled rice.With rice stocks low, some rice traders expressed fears of being caught out by price hike.

Rice production in Abakiliki, Ebonyi State
Rice production in Abakiliki, Ebonyi State

Some rice sellers such as Abia complained that they would prefer to have stable prices than high prices. Rice prices increased by more than 50 per cent last year. By September, he was buying a bag of rice at N17, 000. The situation made rice shops around Shomolu the target of late night robberies with a rice seller around Pedro, Shomolu losing 57 bags in one robbery.

Consequently, rice sellers had to cut stocks to prevent a situation where they would lose more when the night thieves struck.

Few months to the end of the year, Customs officials barged into rice traders’ warehouses and markets suspected of recieving smuggled products such as rice.

But the government, highly conscious of social or political tensions caused by food inflation, moved to protect consumers by increasing local production. Instead of importing rice, the government worked towards supporting farmers to increase local production. The eat-local-rice policy was defended by the farming community. Many Nigerians also agreed that home-grown rice tastes best.

Since November last year, national rice production has increased tremendously over the past few weeks, improving the nation’s food security.

At the same time, the gains in production, which resulted in the boost to rice supply, have made the commodity much cheaper and ultimately less profitable, particularly for small farmers.

The price of rice for the first time went than to between N12,000 and N13,000.

The government came up with short and long-term measures to increase rice cultivation by providing soft loans for farmers, cooperatives and rice traders through the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) Anchor Borrowers programme. There were arrangements to facilitate business-matching for farmers to meet with millers and rice sales via a number of methods. Rice farmers in Plateau were optimistic of a bumper harvest last year with at least, one million tonnes.

The Chairman of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RiFAN), Plateau State Chapter, Mr Joshua Bitrus, said harvest was bountiful from what they saw on ground, as such they expected nothing less than one million tonnes of rice in the state.

He lauded the efforts of the Federal Government to boost rice production and declared that rice production would triple in Plateau, when the Anchor Borrowers Scheme takes off. The Anchor Borrowers Scheme, initiated by the CBN, which will be test-run in Plateau during the dry season farming.

A total of 1,065 hectares of land across the state have been identified, and they are areas close to water because water is crucial to rice farming. According to him, the success of the pilot scheme will boost farmers’ morale and shore up interest in the scheme. The ban on importation of rice would also encourage the local farmer. He hoped that the price would remain at that level of N14000/50 kgs than the earlier price of N23000/50 kgs, so that farmers could get something reasonable for their efforts and be encouraged to cultivate more in coming years.

Also, the Federal Government was planning in excess of 1.8 hectares of rice and wheat farmers for plantation in Jigawa state for the 2016 dry season. About 90,000 farmers were targeted for rice production early this year.

Nigeria’s Rice Revolution, The Federal Government would provide seeds, fertiliser and herbicide to the farmers at subsidised rates. Each farmer would be given three bags of fertilisers – two NPK and one Urea (50 kilogrammes) apart from 50 kilogrammes of seeds and two and a half litres of herbicide. With the support coming from the Anchor Borrowers programme, stakeholders expect irrigated rice cultivation to reach its pinnacle this year. The expectations are that almost all key rice producing states will receive ample rainfall.

With new varieties being released to farmers, farmers expect good harvest more than last year. As an important contribution to rice cultivation, stakeholders expect Lagos and Kebbi rice partnership to increase uptake and growth of rice and the potential to improve rice yields.

Results have shown that Lagos and Kebbi states’ participation is achieving sustainable rice production.

Farmers said rising imported rice prices were putting pressure on the nation’s budget.

Lagos State governor, Mr Akinwumi Ambode, said the future of Nigeria rests on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the two states on rice production.

In addition, it has been stated that both Kebbi and Lagos have entered an agreement to collaborate in using their comparative advantages to expand the cultivation and processing of rice and agricultural products too.

“In fact, it is believed that we should be able to feed ourselves and Kebbi State being the largest producer of rice and Lagos being the largest consumer, we thought it may synergise to reduce the importation of rice in the country,” he said.

President, Federation of Agricultural Commodities Association of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr Victor Iyama, observed that Nigeria is a good example of a country that was pushed to ignore its own food production, including rice.

He said to be continuously dependent on rice imports was a perfect recipe for crisis. Iyama an Nigeria’s Rice Revolution, he believed high-yield varieties and irrigation systems would lead to increased output of the staple grain. He expects government and the private sector to invest in more efficient machines and farming methods, better irrigation systems, and new, more resilient and higher yielding varieties of rice to produce more of the primary staple with less cost in time and effort.

Iyama said rice production is open to mechanisation and high-yielding strains that may be deployed. It may be one of the reasons why rice prices would not go up in tandem with some other commodities.

One of the difficulties associated with growing rice is that a lot of water is required, using the traditional method for rice paddies.

Lake Rice
Lake Rice

Nigeria’s Rice Revolution, Iyama said this is not going to be an issue as farmers can dig boreholes to cope with the challenge of large water use. He doesn’t believe rice fields have to be flooded with water every day to give better yields. Iyama, a rice farmer, maintained that the best strategy for keeping the price of rice low was to ensure that production increased faster than demand.

According to him, rice production could be increased by expanding cultivation and encouraging young people get involved in planting rice, which takes four months before harvest. He explained that increased investment would make rice markets more efficient, helping to bring rice prices down.

Speaking with The Nation, Kebbi Chairman, Rice Farmers’ Association, Alhaji Sahabi Augie said a N12,000 per bag price of rice will go up till April when farmers will make the first harvest of the year.

According to him, Nigeria has lots of potential growth in rice production. He said Nigeria could be self-sufficient in rice production if there was enough support for those in rice business. In the last couple of years, however, rains have become more unpredictable and drought has emerged as a growing concern in the northern part of the country.

In response, the various governments have released drought-tolerant rice varieties that can be used in rainfed lowlands. Meanwhile, there are fears food prices are expected to remain volatile, though output is likely to grow later this year as farmers plant additional crops.