Rice – one of the most consumed staple crop, no doubt has a global appeal. It has found favour with many households. In fact, the food basket of many homes is never complete without rice. The rice sub-sector has been a springboard upon which the agricultural sector has assumed an active contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as a huge source of foreign exchange to many nations.
The place of rice as the staple food of Nigerians is eloquently attested to, by the humongous expenditure on imports which exert enormous pressure on our lean foreign exchange. Nigeria is an important destination of foreign rice notably from Asia with our neighbours serving as active tunnels at enormous economic cost to the country.
So, it was hard to fault the hefty 70% tariff that was slammed on import coming through the ports and the August 2019 land border closure which had rice in the crosshair. This is against the background of efforts at developing the latent capacity in satisfying local demand with surplus for export to wean ourselves off unsustainable import.
Notwithstanding the border closure suspension in December last year, rice still remain stuck on the list of contraband. However, the consequence of the ban has been the galloping demand which crawling supply is finding hard to meet and resultant prohibitive price which is running apace, pushing rice beyond the reach of many.
Despite having a value chain that is dominated by smallholder farmers and processors, there has been important scale up in production and appetite for the local product. According to reports, Nigeria is the top African producer and the sixteenth in the world with a current market value of the quantity of local production put at 684 billion dollars.
It’s now common in local communities which hitherto gave rice scant regard; to see it in large quantity being parboiled in huge receptacle with firewood or dried on huge tarps which clearly points to a growing and active community of rice farmers. Reports puts the population of rice farmers at 12 million and still growing.
Records of cottage and integrated rice mills now mushrooming in the entire country remains impressive. So, the verdict is that the rice value chain is enjoying a never – before bubble with income and employment space opening up for many.
Meanwhile, the cost of unprocessed paddy rice is still high which constitute about 70% of total rice processing. The cost and unreliability of electricity has constrained processors to power their machineries with diesel generators with grave impact on the inchoate subsector.
We are still a long way off in solving the quality conundrum which has assumed a source of concern and have been adduced to the prevailing inefficient rice processing practices. Research shows that the techniques and equipment deployed by the preponderant smallholder processors in the value chain significantly influences the output and quality. Also, reports have revealed the absence of unbroken supply of rice of good quantity and quality.
The volume of rice produced locally has grown to eight million metric tonnes with the federal government hoping to achieve 18 million metric tonnes by 2023, which is an ambitious target.
However, in realistically achieving the target, there’s the necessity for government to follow two competing paradigms of protecting the current gains achieved through smallholder farmers which constitutes about 80% with the existing ban and farm mechanisation / modernisation in transforming the country as a serious competitor and exporter.
Mechanisation in Nigeria is abysmally low and it’s put at 0.3hp/ha which pales in comparison with leading rice powerhouses like China and India with 8 hp/ha and 2.6 hp/ha respectively. Another reality is in the number of tractors which is estimated at 22,000 compared to 1million and 2.5 million in China and India according to the consulting firm-KPMG.
Low yield is throttling increase in production. The average yield per hectare is at just over 2 tonnes- half the global average and a fraction of Egypt’s 9.5 tonnes a hectare according to UN data. The gap in yield can be reduced through the use of high yielding varieties and good agricultural practices in meeting the global 6 metric tonnes per hectare average.
The dependence on rainfed agriculture has become the norm as a result denying the country the capacity of more than a single production in a year which is possible through irrigation. Experts says there’s little hope of enhanced production without significant investment in irrigation. According U.N Food and Agriculture Organisation (F.A.O) less than 1% of Nigeria farmland is irrigated compared with global average of more 20%.
With the hope of a vibrant subsector in the horizon, production capacity needs to be expanded, techniques and infrastructures improved upon to meet demands as well as quality with the right incentive. Basically, throwing everything into cutting cost per hectare and improvement on yield per hectare is sine qua non in plummeting the cost of milled rice. Zero tariffs on agricultural machineries and equipment subsidies on fertilizer, seed, guaranteed minimum price support for farmers are important incentives.
The economic gains and the rapidly growing population should serve as an impetus on rice production. The country needs to tow the path of making rice security synonymous with food security. On this score, the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) which has been in the thick of the revolution will continue to require important support in sustaining the momentum.
Ungbo writes via