NIGERIA ON THE VERGE OF SELF SUFFICIENCY IN RICE PRODUCTION

Rafat Salami, Abuja

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Nigeria stepped into 2018 with a near self sufficiency in rice production, giving renewed hope that moving forward; Nigeria’s quest for food sufficiency is indeed feasible.

Between 2015 and 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari embarked on several reforms to reduce Nigeria’s dependency on the importation of rice, a staple food in the country, which was not only draining foreign reserves but also stifling its local cultivation.

According to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Nigeria in 2008 produced 2 million metric tonnes of milled rice but that plummeted to 1.5 million metric tonnes due to massive importation, as well as the smuggling of cheap rice into the country. Nigeria is said to have imported nearly 17 million tonnes over the past five years.

Similarly, the International Fund for Agricultural Development says Nigeria produces less than half of the 6 million metric tones of the rice it consumes annually, bridging the gap with importation, though the country can potentially produce 10 million metric tonnes of rice annually.

In monetary terms, Nigeria spent $2.41 billion on rice importation between January 2012 and May 2015. Government, faced with the task of taking the country out of recession, seized the opportunity by placing restrictions on rice imports on the one hand, and boosting production of the commodity in nearly all states of the federation.

Among the challenges to rice production in Nigeria identified by farmers are the lack of funding and the need for improved seedlings. To address these, President Muhammadu Buhari in November, 2015 launched the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers Programme, which provides loans at single digit interest rate to farmers.

The project has disbursed about N45.5 billion, released through 13 Participating Financial Institutions to about 218, 000 farmers cultivating nine commodities across 30 states. Rice-specific injected funds of N3.5m has increased production of the grain from 1.5 million to 4.5 million.

In the Nigeria Agric Sector report released by the Bureau of Statistics, 29 of 36 states of the country are currently engaged in the cultivation of rice. The total cultivated areas is estimated at 2,432 thousand hectares, producing about 4,472 metric tonnes per yield.

Cumulatively, the fund has helped Nigeria to save at least N216b from rice imports alone. Furthermore, the massive production has also created a new breed of millionaires and lifted many out of poverty.

The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, during the pre-commissioning of the N10billion WACOT Rice Mill in Argungu, Kebbi state, had said over 88,000 farmers had become millionaires, through the Anchor Borrowers Dry Season Rice Farming programme of the bank.

The WACOT rice mill, an over N10 billion state of the art mill, is capable of processing more than 120,000 metric tonnes of paddy rice annually. The number of rice mills in Nigeria has also more than quadrupled.

Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe at the ‘Big Boost for Agro Diversification and export” programme in 2017 said Nigeria would put in 40 large scale rice mills across the country, in addition to the 15 that have opened in the last 3 years. He explained that the goal was not only to achieve food sufficiency in Nigeria but to also export 10 million metric tonnes to ECOWAS.

The North-east and North-west of Nigeria, account for 57 percent of total rice production in the country and that is set to increase this year as budgetary allocation to the Agriculture sector for 2018 is N118.98 billion, about 15 billion naira increase from the 2017 budget.

Coupled with continuing funding and expansion of the beneficiaries of the Anchors Borrowers Programme, 2018 is promising to be a year in which Nigeria will indeed achieve rice sufficiency, which will expectedly drive down prices, increase job opportunities and ultimately reduce country-wide poverty.

H.S