Rice farming: Kebbi’s new goldmine

Rice cultivation has not just put Kebbi state on the agricultural map of Nigeria, but has also created jobs, attracted investments and made farmers millionaires as KABIRU DOGON DAJI reports

When President Muhammadu Buhari met with members of the business community during Ramadan fasting in June 2016, he complained openly about the nation’s lack of self-sufficiency. Nigeria, he had told them, is Africa’s largest consumer of rice as it imports six metric tons of the cereal from India, Thailand and Brazil yearly, losing a huge chunk of its foreign reserves as a result. The president, without mincing words, had announced that the country should be self-sufficient in rice production within 18 months.

In the long run, Nigeria should even export the commodity, Buhari further told the businessmen. A year later, that dream came true and Kebbi state is at the centre of this turn around.

Significantly, Governor Atiku Bagudu, on assuming office, started instituting the right policy framework and encouraged farmers to key into the president’s mission. According to studies, about 60 percent of the state’s land mass is covered by fadama and the people are known for rice farming.

However, what they needed was government’s support, especially in financing, farm inputs and access to modern agricultural techniques. Bagudu immediately partnered with the Bank Of Industry (BOI) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). In addition, the governor put down N4 billion to assist rice farmers in the state to go into commercial farming, to show commitment. With the capital outlay and agreement it entered with BOI, his administration also designed a template where each farmer agreed to produce at least six tons of rice per hectare of land, after being given a minimum of N210,000 per hectare to cover farm inputs and seedlings.

In 2015, the federal government also launched the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), especially to help small holder farmers across the country, through CBN. Significantly, by June 2017, 78,000 rice farmers had benefitted from the programme in Kebbi state. Under the Anchor Borrowers’ arrangement, the government is expected to buy rice from registered farmers at the rate of N113,000 per ton. Specifically, the governor’s initial collaboration with both CBN and BOI, coupled with federal government’s ABP boosted rice production in Kebbi state.

According to Alhaji Lawal Argungu, the permanent secretary of Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, output had risen from less than 200 metric tonnes to 1.5 million tonnes in 2017. Apart from mass production, the permanent secretary also told Blueprint that ‘’Kebbi rice is the best in terms of taste and nutrients because of our fertile and salinity-free soil.’’

Similarly, the state chairman of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Alhaji Mohamed Sahabi Augie, had told newsmen that his members were given loans, fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, and water pumps for irrigation under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme.

Right now, Kebbi state is the highest producer of rice in Nigeria, according to Alhaji Babale Umar, the Secretary to the State Government who is also large scale rice farmer. Alhaji Babale, the Fagacin Yauri, commended Governor Bagudu’s administration for giving loans to farmers, timely procurement and distribution of fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and providing improved seedlings to them. According to him, the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme has also drastically reduced unemployment among youths as most of them are now engaged in farming .

By and large, the agricultural success of the administration has also impacted positively on its political fortunes. The SSG told Blueprint that ‘’those in opposition parties are trooping in hundreds to embrace the APC on daily basis, for what they describe as an opportunity for direct access to a gold mine regardless of political party or sectional inclination.‘’ According to him, the only criterion for accessing government’s facility is to have ‘’a land which is suitable for rice farming; so it is opened to all and sundry.”

Significantly, RIFAN chairman Augie said that Kebbi state rice farming success story has also attracted buyers from different parts of the country and neighbouring countries like Niger and Benin republics.

Specifically, the chairman of rice farmers said that millers and traders from Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara, Lagos, Maiduguri, Niger and Adamawa states, had come with trucks and trailers to buy rice from the farmers. According to him, this development has enriched farmers as they are now smiling to the bank. Corroborating Augie, CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele said over 88,000 farmers had become millionaires through the Anchor Borrowers’ Dry Season Rice Farming in the state. In fact, the chairman of rice farmers association is optimistic that by the end of 2019, additional 250,000 millionaires would have been created in Kebbi through rice farming.

According to him, ‘’we were lucky the weather is favourable and the input given to the farmers by government was sufficient. This greatly assisted in raising the yield during last year’s harvest and putting more money into the hands of the rice farmers. I must say that the harvest was very good for us. It had never been like this before. We harvested rice in a way we had never harvested it before in Kebbi.”

In addition, retired Justice Uthman Mohammed, who is a patron of the Kebbi State Rice Farmers Association, has also heeded the federal government’s call and returned to the farm as he has over 50 hectares of rice field. He said that because of the boost in rice farming, most of the young men have gone into it.

According to him, ‘’when the Federal Government asked Governor Atiku Bagudu if we could produce a million metric tonnes of rice from Kebbi State last year, I told the president that we would exceed the target. Last year, we achieved over 1million metric tonnes of rice production capacity. ‘’ The retired Justice echoed President Buhari, when he said that there is no reason for us to import what we can grow in our country. He expressed happiness that the farmers have taken the challenge very seriously.

Significantly, the farmers are facing challenges of quela birds invasion, whereby they ravage rice farms. The government is fighting this invasion by aerial spray of the affected areas. However, local farmers use the palliative of covering some potions of rice farm with mosquito nets to trap the birds, or even beating of drums to dispersed them.

Recently, rice producing areas like Argungu, Augie, Bagudo, Suru and Dandi local government areas have experienced the invasion of rodents, especially rats. The Director of Produce and Pest Control in the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Alhaji Adamu Muhammed Dankawu told Blueprint that the rodents may affect this year’s yield.

However, he said that the state government has already taken appropriate measures to fight them. Already, deputy governor Samaila Yombe Dabai has been mandated by Governor Bagudu to visit the affected areas and make his recommendations. Hopefully, these rodents will be smoked out before they wreck havoc on rice farms that have produced millionaires, created jobs and attracted investments to Kebbi state.

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