Malam Aminu Goronyo is the National President, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria,(RIFAN). In this interview, he speaks on purported rice scarcity in Nigeria, the ban on importation of rice and the country’s potential in rice production, among others. Excerpts:
There has been reports on rice scarcity in Nigeria. What is the true situation?
There are issues now about so-called scarcity of rice in the country but to us, I don’t think there is any scarcity of rice in Nigeria. You may complain about the price but scarcity is not there and even the price issue is because people were used to buying rice at the rate of N6,000 – N8,000 per bag but now they are buying it between N12,000 and N15,000. That is why they are complaining and I think it is due to the dollar that, almost every day, appreciates against the naira.
What is your view on the calls for government to lift ban on rice importation?
We don’t encourage rice importation because we have four million hectares for rice cultivation. Even if one hectare will give you just two million metric tons, we will be able to cultivate eight million metric tons per one production cycle and we can grow it at least twice a year, which will give you about 16 million metric tons per annum and our consumption rate is between 6.5 to 7 million metric tons per annum.
If we can grow 16 million metric tons at just two metric tons per hectare, I don’t think we need to import foreign rice into the country.
I want to discourage those Nigerians who are calling on the federal government to lift the ban on rice importation into the country. We don’t need foreign rice in this country. We consume N1 billion worth of rice every day, so why should we take the advantage and opportunities to other countries while we have more than enough land and resources to produce rice locally and create employment for our people, boost our economy and make our people busy through rice production instead of taking this money outside the country.
We have every potential and opportunity to do it locally here. I am calling on our colleagues and Nigerians to exercise more patience; to give us all the co-operation we need so that together we can produce more qualitative rice that every Nigerian will eat at cheaper rate.
Goronyo is one local government out of the 774 local government areas in the country and I am telling you Goronyo alone can produce more than enough rice for Nigeria; in fact Goronyo alone can feed the whole of West Africa in terms of rice.
We have land, we have irrigation dams and we can grow rice four times in a year. There are varieties that you can grow within 90 days – three months. We have 12 months in a year, if you divide 12 by 3, it will give you 4, and so we can grow rice four times in a year.
Considering human and land resources, we can feed the whole nation with Goronyo alone.
Do we have enough at the moment to cater for the nation’s demand?
We have more than enough. The problem is that there are saboteurs; they always try to sabotage whatever is good in the country. They sabotage efforts by saying there is scarcity in the country. There is no scarcity of rice at all in Nigeria. Agreed that the price is high but there is no scarcity at all. It is saboteurs who are saying there is scarcity.
People also complain about the quality of the local rice. We cannot compare the locally packaged rice in Nigeria especially through the small and medium scale rice mills with the foreign brand but there is what we call integrated rice mills – the bigger ones, the rice they mill is just like that the foreign ones; you can’t even differentiate it. There is the Dangote locally milled rice, the Labana. There are so many integrated rice firms that mill rice just like the foreign variety but for the small and medium rice mills we have, quite okay what they mill is not up to that standard but we are doing our best to see that we improve their capacity so that if they mill rice, it will equally be like the foreign ones.
What are the challenges rice farmers face in Nigeria?
The main challenges before was the market. A farmer will produce rice and after he calculates his cost of production per bag, you will realise that it will be between N2,000 to N2,500 and then the selling price will not be more than N2,500 or a maximum of N3,000, so the difference is not equivalent to the problems involved, but today a farmer doesn’t even need to take his rice to the market, the millers are in his farm; the moment he harvests the rice and threshes it, there is a buyer there, who will buy it at high price.
Access to finance by the small rice farmer was initially a big problem but now with the Anchor Borrowers programme coming in, those challenges are also beginning to be addressed because now a farmer doesn’t need to go to the bank and say I am looking for money to grow rice, there is platform which we call Anchor Borrower platform where you have millers, inputs suppliers like fertilisers, chemicals where you have mechanisation, where you have bank, they all come together to see how they can help these small farmers. So our challenges are now minimised.
What do you think government should do to further boost rice production in Nigeria?
The government is doing everything possible to enhance rice production. The Anchor Borrower programme, I think it is one of those efforts to boost rice production in the country and there are so many other efforts that are in the pipeline to see that even the rice that is produced locally is milled locally to international standard.