• Thursday, July 25, 2024
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‘Nigerian rice is now of same standard as foreign rice’

Reji George

More Nigerians have started consuming locally produced rice in the last two months, not necessarily by choice but because of the closure of the country’s land borders. Reji George, vice president, Olam Outgrower Programme in an interview with Caleb Ojewale, addressed some of the quality concerns some consumers have about locally produced rice. He also spoke about the company’s plan to expand local sourcing and its rice milling capacity from 170,000 MT to 230,000 MT. Excerpts:

What are the quality issues you have observed in sourcing of paddy rice from Nigerian farmers?

If you consider the quality of paddy rice in Nigeria from what it was 10 years ago, it has far improved. Previously there were a lot of admixtures, immature grains, then lots of dust and trash. Over time, with the usage of new improved varieties of seeds and the seed improvement done over time, especially because of the GES program by the government of Nigeria, quality of rice has improved. This has created a lot of improvement in quality and if you compare the quality of Nigerian rice 10 years before and currently, we can easily say that the current quality of domestic rice can compete with the imported rice. Even though we do not have importation as of now, it is equally or maybe better than the foreign rice which is available in Nigeria markets as of now. So, the quality has terrifically improved over a period of time. There are a lot of developmental agencies which have worked for this particular improvement, along with private institutions or private sector participation.

Some people say when they buy the local rice, it is not long enough, and the aesthetics do not compete favourably with the foreign alternatives. What are your thoughts on this?

For any rice, one of the major features of the rice to be judged as a good quality – because people are setting different values for different parameters –  one is the length of the grain. But in Nigeria, whatever varieties have been developed for the West Africa region or for Africa region, all come with 6.8, 6.9 millimetres of length for each of this raw paddy. So, when you process, you get a decent length of rice, but at the same time, it may not be like basmati rice or something which is very long and which cannot come in Nigeria because of our climatic conditions and factors. With time (and research), it will come up but that fragrance or the aroma will not be there for the rice. Having said that, Nigeria’s locally produced rice from Faro 44 and 52 are almost to the same quality of Thai rice, any other Indian rice, or any other rice, which is coming from across the world.

It is the same quality, (and in addition) we have better amylase content in Nigerian rice, which gives a fulfilling feeling for your stomach. That makes it more attractive for Nigerians to buy because it will give a fulfilling feeling to your stomach. The amylase content is very high and the calorie is really good, there are no specks, no dark spots, and no stones in a properly milled rice. So, it is equal or better than imported rice as of now. There has been terrific improvement in quality in the last eight to ten years and especially during the last four to five years.

What are the plans to not only sustain but also boost the volume and quality of rice production?

We are continuing from the things that we are doing as of now; with input distribution, then the training programs through the partners, and buying back. Along with that, there are a couple of pilot projects, which have been done in the previous years, which we are in the process of implementation.

One of that is on loss prevention of harvested rice. We have taken it up as a target to reduce those losses to the level of 50 percent in which we have taken up a pilot project in Nassarawa State, in association with state’s Agriculture Development Program (ADP) and the Japanese Embassy, through supplying reapers and threshers for the farmers to ensure they reduce those losses. That is one project, which we want to expand into all our programs. Along with that, we have signed an MOU on sustainable rice platform. Sustainable rice platform is a body, which is co-convened with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Rice consumes 30 to 40 percent of the total groundwater available in the world and emits almost 10 percent of the methane gas which is globally produced. We want to address these things through modification of current practices, by working to address the efficiency of water usage, and fertilizer usage efficiency.  Also, avoiding child labour, encouraging women empowerment and other things which are part of a project signed with the German International Corporation from 2019 to 2021.

Along with that, we want to expand the out-growers program because our processing capacity is also being expanded. The current processing capacity at Olam is 170,000 metric tons of rice. One of the mills is being expanded to 130,000, so in 2022, total capacity will be 230,000 metric tons. So, while we have production of paddy rice coming from our own commercial farm, it is only around 40 to 45 thousand metric tons whereas the outgrowers paddy program last year was around 50,000 tons and this year it is going to be 70,000 metric tons. The remaining quantity was bought from the open market through the buying agents.

Therefore, we want to get into a tie-up with the farmers to produce the entire processing capacity. This will give us better quality, while also completely avoiding the middlemen so that farmers can get a better price.