Nigeria can generate over $15b from rice export yearly if the states complement each other in cultivation and processing and at the same time, mobilise farmers to improve production tremendously.
The Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Abubakar Bagudu, who revealed this during an interview with The Guardian, said rice production is a big economic opportunity for the country in terms of its ability to contribute to employment and enhance the country’s foreign exchange.
“Why can’t we be rice exporters? Bangladesh, which is about one-fifth of the Nigerian landmass, produces over 38 million metric tonnes of rice. So, that means nothing stops us in Nigeria from achieving that. If we produce 30 million metric tonnes of rice, even at $500 per tonne, that is about $15b. States should complement each other, and that is what we have been doing in Kebbi. We share knowledge.
“Kebbi is becoming the hub of rice production in Nigeria; we are not competing with other states. If you recall, I have always said, one of Nigeria’s blessings is that rice grows in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). There is no state that cannot grow rice. Even Lagos, which has relatively small landmass, still has some rice production going on in there.
“Rice is one of the few crops that you can find growing in all the 36 states. Some states are even more suitably placed. For example, the most surprising will be Bayelsa. Bayelsa has a lot of water resources. Somebody doing rice in Bayelsa would not have water challenges like the one doing it in Kebbi, because Kebbi farmers, during the dry season, have to pump water. Even the River Niger will be lower than the farm level at the time. You have to pump to bring the water up,” he said.
Bagudu, who revealed that Bayelsa and some places in Kano would not experience such challenges, said it was not surprising that the Shagari government in the 1980s had the vision that Bayelsa, a prime area, should be producing at least two million metric tonnes of rice.
“Cross River is a major producer of rice, likewise Anambra, and Ebonyi states. We have Abakaliki rice from Ebonyi State. Like in Kebbi and Taraba, the women in Nasarawa, Jigawa, Sokoto, and elsewhere in Nigeria are known historically to be involved in rice farming and processing.
“When we complement each other, everyone benefits. Everyone benefits not only from rice. We have done that for rice. As I said, Kebbi at one time had a partnership with Lagos. We sent people to Imo State to teach them because it is not like Kebbi is competing with Imo. We should complement each other to produce more. We should do the same thing for palm oil. We should do the same thing for cassava. We should do the same thing for yam. We should think of our place in the world rather than our relationship with each other and create more employment.”
The governor said he would not be surprised if he sees a rice pyramid similar to the recent one displayed in his state in Ebonyi. “I will not be surprised if I see them in Cross River. It is not a big deal. Our people are hardworking…The pyramids you talked about should be seen in every state in Nigeria. That is part of God’s providence to us. If we don’t manage it, it is our own making.
“Producing more rice is easy. Many farmers across Nigeria are already farming with little support. With essential services, training in modern agronomic practices and financing, they have moved from the current yield to a bigger yield. That automatically increases rice production. In Kebbi, it used to be with one hectare; you produced less than a tonne. Now with one hectare, you produce a minimum of five tonnes. You can imagine if all rice farmers can achieve that, which would be a five-fold yield or five-fold increase in rice production. Then, more people are attracted to farming or expanding their farmland and then multiple cropping. It used to be that most of our farmers only farmed one crop during the rainy season.
“Now, they do more than one crop, and they even invest more in the dry season. So, a combination of these and then continuous support by the government policy improve production tremendously. President Muhammadu Buhari supported the closure of borders, not because we don’t like our neighbours, but just to show that we are serious about the fact that Nigerians can produce something and that the government should protect those Nigerians against unfair competition from abroad. The message has resonated that more Nigerians are investing in it.”
While responding to rising cost of rice despite the alleged government’s rice-sufficiency claims, Bagudu said logistics such as cost of input, cost of fuel to pump water during dry season farming and high exchange rate, among others, were responsible for increasing cost.