Nigeria abandoned local rice production by focusing and spending billions of dollars importing foreign rice until it was hit by acute foreign exchange scarcity. This has given rise to the consumption of local products in the country.
The crisis has made locally produced rice to receive attention from Nigerians as the price of imported rice has gone up significantly across the country.
Our Correspondent Bamidele Ajayi went on facility tour of one Nigeria’s biggest rice mill in Amichi, Nnewi South LGA of Anambra to ascertain the level of the country’s farmers and millers’ preparedness to take advantage of the nation hard economic reality as the panacea to economic diversification.
Last May when the Federal Government banned rice importation through land borders, in less than two months, the price of the commodity skyrocketed out of the reach of most Nigerian consumers, as a bag of rice, which sold for N9, 000 before the ban, now sells for between N15, 000 and N17, 000.
Banning rice importation was aimed at encouraging and boosting local production and also reducing high import bill of over N650 billion annually.
However, local production has not been adequate enough to meet the consumption of the rapidly growing population because farmers were not encouraged to go into local rice farming before the ban. Therefore, there exists an imbalance between rice production and consumption.
Governor of Anambra state, Willie Obiano in his drive to deliver on his campaign promises made agriculture as his number one pillar, in which he encourages farming and providing internationally recognized seedling to farmers to cultivate.
He extended same to rice farmers and millers to take advantage of the state rich rice deposit with history by encouraging sustainable farming that will not be only for local consumption but with export driven zeal to earn foreign currency.
Anambra now housed the largest rice mill in Nigeria with the capacity to mill about 400 metric tons a day, but faced with challenges of inadequate availability of rice paddy to enable the mills function optimally.
The millers x-rayed the position of making Anambra rice produce as model that others states in the country should emulate, with the cultivation of the improved rice seedlings by farmers in the state to encourage people distinguish between Anambra locally made rice produce from produce gotten from neighbouring states.
Besides Dollar crisis, investigation shows that part of the problems which led to the scarcity of local rice include provision of high-yielding rice varieties, fertilisers, irrigation, shortage of processing facilities, funding and agro-chemicals for the farmers in spite of Federal Government interventions.
These factors affect the rate of local rice production against the imported product whose produce would have lived beyond required duration for human consumption which may be inimical to human health.
Correspondent gathered that few companies processing rice in the country don’t have enough paddies currently to meet their factory capacity, as they would be willing to buy the product from farmers anywhere in the country.
With the current performance of the product in the market, the processors need more paddy rice but unfortunately they cannot find paddy anywhere at the moment. The processors don’t know if there are farmers who still have the product, as they would be willing to buy from them to meet the capacity of their processing plants.
They complained that lack of unified seed contributes to the scarcity of local rice. Most of the farmers that are planting are based on the required seeds by their locality, which might not be accepted in other areas.
They advised the Federal Government to adopt a method of fast tracking facilities for rice farmers in order to access loans at the right time and also find a way around collateral to make it easier for farmers and processors.