Attaining self-sufficiency in rice production
WHILE it has been accepted that local rice is more nutritious, its production has not met the demand. Local rice production is still far from government’s anticipation, and the state’s response has been to supplement the gap with importation of rice, through a quota system. While the importation has softened the immediate scarcity, and dissuaded negative actions like smuggling to a small extent, quota allocation always comes with many issues. The 2014 quota allocation signed by President Ebele Jonathan for instance, is widely believed to have lacked transparency. It unearthed the corruption and nepotism of agencies like Federal Government Ministries and the Nigerian Customs Service.
The immediate concern of this piece is however not on the hubbub which has followed the issue of rice importation, but the inclusion of local farmers in the investments through the creation of a policy through the involvement of all major stakeholders in the rice sub-sector.
Over the years, government’s way of meeting the needs of local farmers has been through supply of fertilizers—which are most times taken over by government officials, and politicians. The evidence of this happening, was corroborated in a recent media statement by the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, who said his “administration will not condone injustice and acts of discrimination that is against the ordinary citizens as was the case before.”
The reality is that the problem of the rice sub-sector needs more than distribution of fertilizers to be solved. There is a need to create policies that integrate local farmers into the bigger investments. It is therefore important that government meets with all stakeholders in the sub-sector, so as to create policies that would bring a strategic integration of local farmers towards the goal of rice self-sufficiency.
There is a need to achieve the same level of success in sugar and cement as rice has over the years become a very important staple in many homes in Nigeria. This can be achieved through a stakeholder gathering, where a backward integration policy variation for the rice market is planned towards self-sufficiency. It might be important to take stock on how investors in the rice subsector have created programmes for local farmers, the level of success achieved so far, and the future achievable.
While many local rice merchants enjoyed the benefit of the 2014 rice quota allocation, with the emphasis on being indigenous, the fact is, they have little to ensure the industrial revolution which Nigeria desperately needs at this time in the rice sub-sector. On the side also are some foreign companies who have over time become friends of those in power. The concern is that these companies have created no structural involvement for local production, but are prominent when matters of rice importation come to forefront.
A minority of investors in the rice segment are working towards the necessary industrial revolution that would enhance local production and aid Nigeria towards self-sufficiency. Olam is a good example in this regard. The multinational appears to have done well in bringing local farmers into its local production, through what is called an “outgrowers programme,” that sees the company distribute seeds and share technical know-how with farmers. It has also invested billions into the establishment of paddy and rice mills. An informed stakeholder has this to say on the critical need for industrial participation in local rice production in Nigeria, “Dangote is putting in some investments, but Olam has done the most in the rice business today.”
However, there is a need for government to take stock of genuine investors, because the sub-sector has too many investors claiming to have milling facilities and paddy, only when lobbying for importation quota. So the bulk of production falls back on the local farmers who cannot even compete with the imported rice.
Grain De Sel Magazine in the edition dedicated solely to agriculture in Nigeria noted that “over 30% of rice growers cultivate less than 1ha, and close to 60% less than 5ha.” It also noted that, “There is considerable potential for extending and intensifying rice production in the five rice-growing ecosystems found in Nigeria (plateau, rain-fed plains, irrigated plains, lowlands and mangrove). The land area that could be cultivated is roughly 79 million hectares. Less than 10% of the 3.4 million hectares that could be irrigated are currently irrigated. Rice yields in irrigated areas are between 3 and 3.5 t/ha, much lower than the potential yields estimated at between 7 and 9 t/ha. This production gap could be bridged by introducing improved varieties, with better use of water resources and integrated management of rice growing.” There might have been a level of improvement from the time when the article was written in 2011, but more is achievable.
What government needs to do is encourage collaborative efforts between investors and local farmers. This way, government can create a business-friendly environment for anyone doing business in Nigeria—local or foreign. Rice importation should be seen as a form of subsidy to cushion large investments. Hence tariff should be dependent on a fraction of existing investment. There is no point encouraging investors only to offer the same tariff and quota preferences to everyone—new entrants, big investors and even rice merchants.
It is definite that if government gets things right, the result of a successful integration between local farmers and investors could mean an improvement in post-harvest processing and treatment, development in irrigation and extension of cultivated lands, and accessible mechanized farming equipment and seeds. These were things outlined by the Nigerian National Rice Development Strategy (NRDS), and they are achievable. The government would however need to look outside the rice quota allocation crisis, when it decides to take stock of the actual situation of knowing the genuine contributors of the rice value system. It can then evaluate their contribution and what the government needs to do to enhance the positive involvements they have made thus far. The evaluation of investors can then influence the custom tariffs on rice importation (as an investment buffer); imports on agricultural machineries like processing equipment.
The government has a duty to put to the forefront the actual investors who can help government actualize its goals of rice self-sufficiency. There should be no foreign investor or local player preferential treatment in a sector in dire need of huge investment that would require much financial commitment. The rice sub-sector also needs investors who have a guaranteed innovative integration of the local production system.
So, as government continues to agitate for increased local rice production, finding ways it can implement policies that integrate the local farmers to the financial commitments of investors, it is important to understand how the government would truly effects its concern over the local farmers, through investors. In addition, to meet the demand for rice consumption in Nigeria, it is imperative that government also improves on the basic infrastructures; electricity and road networks that are vital in the path towards the journey towards self-sufficiency
•Ogbemudia, a local mechanised farmer, wrote from Auchi, Edo State.