Nigeria is reportedly the current largest rice producer on the African continent, beating major rice producing countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt and Mali to occupy the 14th position globally.
According to the latest rice production statistics, Nigeria with its production volume of 5,040,000.00 metric tonnes of milled rice, produces more rice than Egypt which produces 4,000,000.00mt.
Cote d’ivoire, a leading rice producer occupies the 29th position with 1,400,000.00, Sierra Leone occupies the 35th spot with 819,000 mt. The government had earlier put the production figure at 6.5 mmt saying that the country needed to bridge the gap of 500,000mt and get to 7 mmt as Nigeria needs 7 mmt to achieve self-sufficiency in rice.
This famed achievement has, however, been overshadowed by high price of locally produced rice, which has gone far beyond the reach of the ordinary man.
A consumer, Daniel Ehi, hearing that Nigeria was currently the largest producer of rice in Africa, scoffed at the revelation, arguing that it was not possible. He asked: “Then why is local rice the most expensive item in the market? How come when we were not producing so much, rice could be bought for as low as N7000 per 50 kilogramme bag.? “Where is the excess of the large production figure that we keep bandying about.? Are we exporting rice? I don’t think so because our rice is too expensive to compete in the global commodity market. “So where is all the rice?” Some farmers support this view, saying that the actual milled production of rice is less than the 6.5 million metric tonne declared by the government. They maintain that the current paddy production figure hovers above 5 mmt which after milling would drop to 4 million or 3 million metric tonnes. Price of local Nigerian rice is not competitive among her own African counterparts. While prices range from N10,000 to N11,000 per 50 kilogramme bag in Benin Republic, Nigeria’s closest neighbour and trade partner, consumers in Nigeria part with N15,000 or more for the same quantity of rice. Prices rose exponentially when the Federal Government slammed borders with neighbouring African countries shut completely after continuously banning importation of rice for years. The purpose was to encourage local production of rice and other staples that Nigerians consume daily. Following the border closure in August 2019, price of rice, which hitherto ranged between N11,000 and N13,000 shot up, selling for as high as N22,000/50kg bag.
During the 2020 yuletide season, the product sold for as high as N30,000. An agro entrepreneur and chairman of Comtrade Group, Mr Abiodun Oladapo, blamed the high prices on escalating production cost and insecurity.
He noted that farmers had abandoned farms in areas that were known for high insecurity, making it impossible to get the maximum input from those areas. “When comparing prices of items, one needs to take the cost of production into consideration because cost of production in Nigeria is very high,” he stated. The high cost of local production can also be closely linked to the lack of mechanization in the agricultural sector.
The Nigerian farmer still deploys crude implement like hoe and cutlass for crop planting. Technology is not being deployed on a wide scale in the farms and so, most farmers do not use basic hybrid seeds like they do in other parts of the world. In addition to this, the agricultural sector as a whole has been hit by the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic in the past one year.
Consequently, rice farmers and other crop growers have complained that they were not given palliatives to cushion the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the agricultural sector.
The Chairman of Voice for Food Safety, Bridget Osakwe and Chairman, Right to Food Group, prof Gbolagade Ayoola, who signed a statement on behalf of the farmers, expressed concerns that smallholder farmers were not given adequate support or well catered for in government’s covid- 19 palliatives even as they grappled with the challenge of feeding the nation during the lockdown and immediately afterwards.
Recommending solution in a separate interview, a rice miller, Efe William, said the Central Bank of Nigeria’s intervention programme must be holistic in order to achieve food self sufficiency.
Describing the current rice production figure as ‘scratching the surface’ he argued that when goods and services are not enough, prices go up.
The crop’s insufficiency, he said, was combined with poor yield, poor technology and poor funding of processors, saying that these factors would continue to create widening disparity in prices. William expressed confidence that local production could be sustained if better funding was provided to the right people.
According to him, some of the things the government can do is encourage research institutes to seek for better yields, provide funding to real farmers (not portfolio farmers), help acquire modern farming equipment through soft and targeted funds, help ready and willing processors with single-digit loans to procure modern milling equipment, ensure stringent implementation of policies that encourage investment in the rice value chain.