Barely a year after suffering monumental losses to floods that wiped out rice cultivated on an estimated 500,000 hectares of FADAMA land, and about 15 percent of upland cultivation, rice farmers in Kebbi State are gearing up for a rice festival in a demonstration of resilience and determination.
On a recent trip to Kebbi, this reporter made an unplanned discovery at the Zauro old airstrip, along the road leading from the Birnin Kebbi airport to the city centre. Pyramids reminiscent of ancient Egyptian monuments could be seen from a distance, and this reporter found out those were tens of thousands of bags containing paddy rice, used to build pyramids in anticipation of the planned rice festival.
It was learnt that apart from a display of hope and resilience, an objective of having the rice festival is also to stabilise market prices, as farmers hope that selling such a large quantity at once will bring down prices in the open market. Invariably, costs of acquisition of raw materials will reduce for millers and consumers just might benefit from lower prices in the end.
There are currently 13 pyramids of between 30,000 and 35,000 bags, with a target of between 15 and 17 pyramids. By implication, the pyramids currently have about 400,000 bags of paddy rice, with more still expected before the festival holds. Earlier slated for February 25, sources say it has now been postponed, but a final date was not confirmed.
The pyramids are made of rice collected from farmers as repayment of their Anchor Borrowers Programme’s (ABP) loan, which will subsequently be sold to millers then remitted to the Central Bank of Nigeria as loan recovery.
The building of these pyramids, according to Muhammed Augie, chairman, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Kebbi State chapter, “is just proof that despite any challenge, despite all odds, our farmers are ready to give the required competence to be able to feed this country with our home-grown rice.”
Bags of rice stacked upon more bags of rice with “nothing in between,” said Augie, while describing the pyramids, which this reporter had mistaken for concrete from a distant observation.
Last year, devastating floods swept away villages and destroyed more than 80 percent of crops cultivated in FADAMA terrains; while some planted in upland areas were also not spared. The losses were not limited to rice, as other grains such as maize, wheat and sorghum were also lost. The losses put the livelihoods of tens of thousands of farmers at risk, and to some extent, represented a setback to Nigeria’s food security ambitions, especially as it pertained to sufficiency in local rice production.
“If we can do this after the loss we suffered to floods destruction, it means when all things become equal we can more than double what we have done now,” boasted Augie, saying, “Rice marketers should be rest assured that our farmers still have the energy and resilience to continue.”
Joel Aiki, permanent secretary, Kebbi State Ministry of Agriculture, told BusinessDay in an exclusive interview that the state government was linking up with the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) to access information of the weather conditions for this year to know if there would be flooding or not, so that there will be early warning to farmers. Invariably, they may not need to plant where floods are anticipated.
However, farmers well positioned in the FADAMA area could plant before the floods emerge, and also, the timing for the planting will be communicated to farmers in ensuring loss of lives and assets are avoided.
According to Aiki, the rice festival will commemorate the ABP, which in 2015 was launched in the state as a pilot from where it moved to other states. It saw the rapid increase of farmers cultivating rice from just 20,000 to a population of 78,000 participating in the programme by the first year, and increasing presently to about 300,000 farmers cultivating rice.
“That is why we have the national production jerked up from barely 3 million tons to now over 5 million metric tons,” he said, the bulk of which comes from Kebbi State, according to him.
The farmers had hoped to produce over 3 million tons of paddy rice last year but could only do about 1 million. This year, they hope to achieve what was thwarted by last year’s flood, and the rice festival appears to be a morale boosting event for them.