Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on Tuesday commissioned a WACOT Rice Mill in Kebbi State, further affirming that the Nigeria is witnessing what analysts have described as ‘white gold’ revolution.
According analysts, rising rice production is one of the few positives of Nigeria’s recession, which is the country’s worst in 25 years.
Sunday Telegraph learnt that the WACOT’s state-of-the-art rice milling facility with a capital outlay of over N10 billion has a milling capacity over 120,000 metric tonnes of paddy per annum and will create over 3,500 direct and indirect jobs.
According to the promoters of WACOT, the company participates in the entire rice value chain, from seed multiplication and improving farming practices – to processing, branding and distribution.
“As we increase capacity, we will be off-taking paddy from over 50,000 rice farmers,” the Group Managing Director of TGI Group, the parent company of WACOTRice Limited, Rahul Savara said during the official opening of the rice mill in Argungu, Kebbi State, by the Acting President.
According to him, the 120,000 metric tonnes Rice Mill is part of WACOT’s expansion plan, which targets an increase in its rice milling capacity to 500,000 metric tons in the next few years. Commending TGI Group for supporting and investing in the food security vision of the Federal Government, Osinbajo restated that government will in the next two years concentrate its attention on agriculture and food security, energy, (power and petroleum), industrialization and transport infrastructure.
The food vision, Sunday Telegraph learnt, has already tripled the country’s rice production capacity a decade ago to about 5.7 million tonnes.
“In the last two years my yield has jumped to 35 bags of rice against the 20 I was getting in previous years,” Faruk Haruna, a local farmer said.
“Rice farming has greatly improved. I have had better yield and better price in the market,” he told AFP at his farm at Dawakin Tofa, on the outskirts of Kano.
“We are now living a white gold revolution,” said Francis Nwilene, the Nigeria director of the AfricaRice research centre.
“People understand that oil is not something Nigeria can depend on anymore.”
The potential is undeniable. But despite having vast tracts of fertile land, Nigeria, the largest consumer of rice in Africa, is also one of the world’s biggest importers of the food staple.
With domestic demand approaching 7.8 million tonnes per year, almost a quarter of Nigeria’s rice comes from abroad, mainly India and Thailand.
Rice is shipped through the Lagos port or by road from neighbouring Benin, which shares nearly 800 kilometres (500 miles) of porous borders with Nigeria.
“Smuggling is a major issue which discourages local production,” explained Nwilene.
In May 2015, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele disclosed that $2.14 billion was spent on rice importation between January 2012 and May 2015.
Also, the Executive Secretary, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), Prof. Baba Abubakar disclosed at a seminar in Lagos that Nigeria spends N356 billion on the importation of rice making Nigeria second on the list of countries that import the most rice.
Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonanya Onu once said that the country spends over N1 billion daily on rice importation, while according to a former Minister of Commerce and Industry, Egnr. Charles Ugwu, Nigeria has been spending $2.6 billion per year on importing rice
Whichever is the most correct from the above given figures; it is just obvious that even the least of the figures is unhealthy for the Nigerian economy.
Meanwhile, in the Kano region, the GreenPro factory shifted from specialising in flour and poultry to white cereals four years ago.
“Rice processing is by far more profitable than flour and chicken feed,” said Production Manager Salisu Saleh.
The government has said it believes Nigeria can be self-sufficient in rice production within a couple of years and has announced that it would announce an outright ban of the produce in December this year.
This even as to boost production, government had banned rice imports from borders in 2015 and launched an ambitious aid programme overseen by the Central Bank of Nigeria targeting some 600 000 farmers.
In the arid north, new irrigation systems that allow farmers to harvest twice a year instead of just once during the rainy season have been introduced.
Nigeria’s economic crisis has provided a boost for rice.
As global oil prices hover around $50 a barrel, analysts insist that the country needs to reduce costly imports and boost exports to increase government revenue.
This came as sequel to the severe shortage of foreign currency; government had severally restricted access to dollars necessary to pay for imports and repeatedly talked up the merits of local agriculture, which accounts for 24 per cent of GDP.
The rush for “white gold” is now attracting some of the country’s biggest names into agribusiness.
Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, who made his fortune in cement, announced at the start of this year that he wanted to invest $4.5 billion in three northern states of Jigawa, Zamfara, Sokoto to establish commercial rice farms and build a dozen processing factories.
Singaporean giant Olam, which already owns one of the country’s largest rice farms in Nasawara State, is running at full capacity processing 105 000 tonnes of rice a year.
“Demand is high. Rice is a real business opportunity for Nigerians and will create thousands of jobs,” said Ade Adefeko, Olam’s vice-president of private sector and government relations.
Meanwhile, small-scale farmers, who make up the majority of the rice producers, face numerous challenges, not least access to land.
Production facilities are also inefficient and costs high, while there are not enough ways for farmers to commercialise their products.
With fertilisers and machinery, Haruna estimates he could farm “four times the current field”.
“I have a large farm but I can only cultivate a fraction because of my limited resources,” he explained.
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