• Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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BusinessDay

Irrigation farming, solution to local rice scarcity

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During this year’s August break, rice farmers across the country harvested rice and there was an upward surge in local rice supply with the usual corresponding supply from legally imported and smuggled rice. But as the Yuletide approaches, demand for rice has gone up as expected and local rice is in very short supply, and this has sparked off heated debate by the various stakeholders.

The debate centres around the fact that in January this year, the Federal Government increased tariff on imported rice to 110 percent to encourage local production. This has reduced legal importation, but rice is no doubt being smuggled into the country through the porous borders with the Nigeria Customs Service officials still manning the borders. Benin Republic has increased its rice import by about 400 percent, making money at Nigeria’s expense as most the rice imported into that country gets smuggled into Nigeria.

So, some stakeholders want the tariff reviewed downwards. Farmers in Nigeria of course do not want that. With the backing of the able minister of agriculture, local producers and processors are doing their best to step up domestic rice production, adjudged to be healthier.

But majority of rice farmers, even commercial ones still depend on rain-fed rice farming. The climate change resulting in lack of rainfall when expected has been causing massive losses to rice farmers. Also, many rice farmers can only plant once a year.

Therefore, irrigation, which can provide all-year-round supply of water to crop, is the only solution. Thailand and other countries that export rice do mainly irrigation farming with the infrastructure provided by the government. Can rice farming in Nigeria be developed with irrigation?

Abdulghaniyy Alabi-Ojolowo, producer and processor of Oryza rice, says though more irrigation infrastructure needs to be established, even most of the massive ones already established by the government in different parts of the country are not functioning due to lack of proper maintenance. Ojolowo further says: “Hardly can private farm afford to set up the infrastructure for irrigation. No bank currently is ready to finance that for any private business. It is only the government that can set them up. There are also issues of land ownership and usage. If the farmer does not own the land or cannot guarantee its long-term available for farming, he would hesitate to invest in irrigation infrastructure even if he has the money. We have more irrigation facilities in the Northern part of the country than the Southern part. Also, the facilities would best be set up on government land used by large clusters of farmers.”

On cost estimates, he says “an irrigation project for 200 hectares of land would cost about N500 million to establish, as the one recently established by the Lagos State government in Itoga. Another major challenge is that irrigation facilities run by the River Basin Development Authorities are under the ministry of water resources and not the ministry of agriculture.” Nigeria has about 11 River Basin Development Authorities established in 1976 by the Federal Government to harness the country’s water resources and optimise Nigeria’s agricultural resources for food self sufficiency.

But this year, in one of such facilities set up by the Federal Government in Ogun State with billions of naira, farmers lost huge amount of their yields because there was no meaningful rainfall between July and August. The irrigation facilities were functional but there was disagreement between two departments in the ministry of water resources as to which department should control the usage of the facilities.

These River Basins were set up with the plan of handling over their operations to the network of farmers using the land. This has not been implemented even 30 years after establishment. This may not be unrelated to the fact that allocations are provided by the Federal Government for the running of these River Basin Development Authorities. The information given to the ministers are no doubt different from the actuality. Some stakeholders even called for the control or regulation of the River Basins to be brought under the ministry of agriculture.

Due to erratic power supply in the country, the irrigation facilities are run with diesel. On many occasions, the officials claim there is no fund for diesel.

But if such facilities are handed over to farmers’ co-operatives to operate, the farmers can factor in the cost of diesel as part of their cost of production. Ojolowo says, even at that it is still more profitable for the farmer to have access to irrigation and regulate the water supply. He explains: “Regulating the water supply can also help farmers suppress the growth of weeds and reduce the use of chemicals such as herbicides and therefore costs.”

Under the SURE-P programme, the Middle Ogun River Basin infrastructure was established but approval has delayed commencement of operations.

Afioluwa Mogaji of X-ray Farm Consulting believes that the optimum utilisation of these facilities everywhere can solve the problem. “Every River Basin Development facilities established for commercial farming would provide additional opportunity for smallholder farming called FADAMA (smallholder farming in swampy areas) to thrive. For instance, if irrigation facilities are established, which involves the building of a dam for about 1,000 hectares of land to be irrigated for commercial farming, another 1,000 hectares of farmland can be cultivated in that area without additional infrastructure being built for the smallholder farmers.”

By: OLUYINKA ALAWODE