The ravaging Coronavirus epidemic has dealt a blow on Ekiti State’s aspiration to scale up its rice production.
The Japanese Government’s grant of $148,209 (N55 million) to the state, meant to facilitate provision of modern equipment for local rice farmers, has temporarily been stalled as people are shunning the Asian country for now.
This agreement was signed last month by the Ambassador of Japan in Nigeria, Mr. Kikuta Yutaka, and New Initiative for Social Development (NISD) Programme Manager, Mr. Martins Ogunlade, who represented the civil society body-facilitators of the grant.
The scheme was floated under the Japanese Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects. It is to assist rice farmers from Gbonyin Local Government Area with farming equipment, such as power tillers and combined harvesters.
The Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Folorunso Olabode, who confirmed this to The Guardian, said the shipments of the equipment is being delayed because the Japanese needed to bring the equipment from their country.
Currently, the atmosphere of excitement that had earlier enveloped the targeted council area is gradually turning to anxiety, as the planting season has commenced.
Olabode said: “You know it is not released directly to the state. There is a coordinating Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) that is given the fund to manage on behalf of the state.
“So they are to buy the equipment for our rice farmers. I think what is delaying it has to do with the coronavirus epidemic, because they need to bring the equipment from their side, and currently everyone is running away from that side.”
Speaking on the process of selecting beneficiaries, the commissioner said the profiling of the farmers have been done, adding that: “they are basically from Gbonyin Local Government. I think the selection was based on productivity value. But you know they have associations because they have formed into cluster groups of cooperative societies and so, the viable ones were selected.”
The commissioner was optimistic that when the equipment eventually arrives, it will boost rice production. “They are bringing a lot of equipment, like planters, harvesters and others. These are the things farmers need for their production and expansion.
“You know that the state is really keying to rice production because of its comparative advantage. Traditionally, we are known for rice production. We have Igbemo rice, which is the most common in Yorubaland.”
He explained that from the recent review, coupled with reports from the state’s Agricultural Development Project (ADP), the state is currently producing about 150,000 tonnes of rice yearly, from both upland and lowlands.
“Our target is to increase production. We have big rice mill that are coming to Ekiti. They include Dangote and Stallions. But beyond these, there is DMT foods also, which has started assembling its rice mills plant in Ado Ekiti, the state capital. So when these two giants are working and you have smaller traditional rice processing mills, by the time you combine them, you know what that means.”
A farmer whose group has been shortlisted, Mr. Olorundare Adebayo in a telephone chat, expressed delight that such a grant is coming to Igbemo Ekiti, a community in the benefitting council area.
According to him, the atmosphere in the community was that of excitement and expectation. He expressed gratitude to the Japanese authority and the NGO piloting the scheme.
He however, expressed hope that the equipment would come during the current planting season. “It is like a dream come true. We have not been able to expand the scope of our rice farm with the use of manual tools due to the challenges associated with it. We are hoping that the equipment will come on time.”
Adebayo urged the state government to expedite action on the various roads leading to the local government, which are either currently being reconstructed or rehabilitated to further help the farmers perform optimally.