Some Nigerian farmers, under the aegis of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), have faulted the recent report by the Africa Rice Center that Nigeria had overtaken Egypt to become the largest producer of rice in Africa. Taiwo Hassan reports
Again, activities in Nigeria’s rice industry were at the front burners following a report by the Africa Rice Center that Nigeria was now the largest producer of rice in Africa, with 4 million tonnes of rice in a year.
But the figure released by the Africa Rice Center on the current state of Nigeria’s rice production was greeted with mixed feeling among key stakeholders in the agric sector, especially some members of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN).
Ordinarily, the Africa Rice Center’s report on Nigeria should be a cheering news for everybody in the country given the inclusive value addition the present administration under President Muhammadu Buhari had put in place to revolutionise the sector in line with its agricultural diversification agenda programme to promote all inclusive agriculture. But the fact remains that the country is yet to attain four million tonnes of rice production target, putting a snag on the Africa Rice Center’s report, which was alleged to have been politically motivated.
The Africa Rice Center, had revealed that Nigeria out-shined Egypt to become the largest producer of rice in Africa.
The Center’s DG, Benin Republic, Dr Harold Roy-Macauley, who made this known in Abuja, had stated that Nigeria attained the position by producing 4 million tonnes of rice in a year.
He explained that Egypt was initially producing 4.3 tonnes annually but the production had suffered setback by almost 40 per cent this year, owing to the fact that the Egyptian government decided to reduce cultivation in a bid to preserve water resources.
He also added that rice cultivation in Egypt requires about 1.8 billion metres of water in evaporation, transpiration and irrigation each year.
Roy-Macauley stressed that efforts are being made to increase overall rice production in Africa but also observed that it won’t restrain rice importation due to the increasing population across the continent.
While noting that consumers yearn for safe and certified rice, he said the centre is set to partner with Nigeria and other governments in Africa to train and sensitize farmers, extension officers and exporters on best practices in cultivation and post- harvest care and to understand market requirements to meet the expectations of the consumers.
Noting that although Africa produces an average of 14.6 million tonnes of rough rice every year, the DG said that the African rice value chain need to be better integrated and able to compete with imported rice in terms of quality.
He remarked that the goal to accomplish self- sufficiency in rice is not limited to farm assistance but also covers the sphere of introducing rice varieties that fit the diverse African agro-ecologies, improve irrigation facilities and disseminate rice growing techniques to farmers.
Despite the success and milestone achievements in the Federal Government’s rice revolution in the country, one question that has been bordering many Nigerians is the current realities on the ground, as there is still foreign rice domination everywhere across the nooks and crannies of the country. The question now is: where is the so-called local rice being claimed by the Nigerian government?
In fact, the reality of the continued foreign rice domination nationwide has put a cast on the whole investments and policy towards achieving self-sufficiency in local rice production since rice importers are still being allowed by the same government to import the product through the gateways and the ever-spiraling rice smuggling at the country’s land borders, which is continuing in abeyance amid mass corruption in the system.
Following this controversy marring local rice production, the sector has been divided into two different schools of thought; pro-government and anti- government.
Speaking on the country’s rice production, the Rice Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) stated that Nigeria has consistently increased her rice production output, alluding to the fact that importation of rice is already decreasing.
The association’s National President, Alhaji Aminu Goronyo, told this newspaper, that local rice production as at 2018 stood at nine million tonnes, while the annual consumption capacity in the country was between 7.5 and 8.5 million tonnes.
According to him, the magic in the downturn in the country’s rice imports should be attributed to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS)’s efforts to reduce rice smuggling, noting that it had yielded fruitful results.
‘‘If there is anybody that will speak on the availability or non-availability of rice, it should be my association,” he said.
‘‘Those people making those publication are enemies of the efforts the government is making to feed its people with locally produced rice.
‘‘We have never done well in rice in the past 20 to 30 years than what we produced this year.
‘‘You know that there was a flood but had it been there was no flood, we cultivated more than 15 million tonnes, but even with the flood, our farmers are happy, those that were not affected are harvesting currently.
‘‘The minimum we are expecting after harvest is about nine million metric tonnes even with the flood and our consumption capacity is between 7.5 and 8.5 million metric tonnes per annum.
‘‘So you can see that even with the flood that affected our farmers, we still have more than enough rice to consume in Nigeria.
‘‘We were used to taking our huge money outside and throw it to local farmers in other countries and create job opportunities, wealth and make other countries economically viable”.
But, the fact remains that under the present administration, there has been rice revolution and this was successfully piloted with the introduction of Anchor Borrowers’ Programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which has seen private rice merchants and states venturing into rice farming with the sole aim of feeding the local population and exports.
Notwithstanding, the last three and the half years of the present administration has been devoted to agriculture in its bid to right the wrong over the neglects in the sector for decades in pursue of crude oil exports by past governments, which has seen the sector contributing a minute 0.4 per cent to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
As debates continue to trail the contentious four million tonnes rice production in the country, farmers believe that last year’s floods, which rocked many rice farms in the country have significantly impeded Nigeria’s local rice production output.
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