• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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BusinessDay

Insufficient rice trails decade-long trillion naira interventions

Relief for households as rice price drops 20%

Nigeria has scant gains to show for a N1.08 trillion splurge on interventions over the last ten years targeted at boosting rice production.

Millers in Africa’s most populous nation are still unable to get enough paddies locally to keep their mills running.

Nigeria had at different times during the tenure of the immediate past president Muhammadu Buhari claimed that the country was self-sufficient in the production of the grain due to the rice revolution under the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) – a key signature project of the country’s intervention for rice in nine years.

But four months after Buhari left office, millers were already scrambling for paddy amid a worsening shortage that rocked the rice milling industry as the country shut its land borders with Niger.

This proves that the country’s rice milling industry had always imported a portion of its paddies for processing local parboiled rice from neighbouring countries.

An industry source also confirmed that some millers were mopping up paddy across the country’s borders to keep their mills running.

“We don’t produce enough paddies. Our main rice season is in October and after that period it is difficult to get enough rice paddy,” the source said.

“There is so much hype about what we produce for political reasons. What we currently produce is not enough to meet millers’ demand,” the source said.

Production to drop 40% this year

A situation farmers say will increase this year as they project output for the grain in 2024 to drop by 40 percent owing to the continuous price surge of key inputs, worsening insecurity and lack of government support for the production of the crop.

Muhammed Augie, former state chairman of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kebbi state chapter projected rice production in the country to drop 40 percent in 2024.

“Lots of rice farmers in Kebbi did not cultivate rice due to the surge in the prices of inputs and lack of government support,” Augie said.

On why the country is still battling for rice sufficiency after a decade of interventions, he said the ABP made lots of impact in the first three years as investments and attention from both the public and private sectors to the industry increased tremendously, thus leading to production increases.

He however noted that when the intervention became politicised, the real farmers were no longer engaged and the few real farmers engaged were not getting the right quality of inputs.

He also stated that insecurity and climate change also impacted the country’s rice sufficiency drive as flooding and droughts ravaged farmlands at every farming cycle during the interventions.

Currently, there is no recent official data, but the latest data from UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) put Nigeria’s paddy production at 8.5 million metric tons in 2022.

The most recent reliable figures for production comes from the USDA, which has projected Nigeria’s rice production to decrease by seven percent this year to 7.7 million tons from 4.8 million tons it predicted last year.

The USDA attributed the decline in production to insecurity, decreased government support and less planting areas owing to a surge in input prices.

Rice production in Africa’s most populous country has increased significantly during the decade interventions and mills have expanded from 10 in 2015 when the country kick-started its rice revolution to over 100 in 2023, according to data from the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN).

Similarly, the industry milling capacity increased from 350,000 metric tons in 2015 to over 7.5 million metric tons in 2023.

However, yield per hectare for rice has remained one of the lowest when compared with its African peers. Nigeria yield per hectare for rice is two, whereas it is 3.4 for Ethiopia, 2.9 in South Africa and 4.2 in Kenya, data from FAO show.

“The fundamental issues are still there despite the amount of investments to boost rice production in 9 years. Yields are still low and mechanisation and technology use in the cultivation of the grain has not increased,” said AfricanFarmer Mogaji, chief executive officer of X-Ray Consulting.

In October 2023, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) lifted its ban restricting exporters of some 41 items including rice from accessing foreign exchange from the investors and exporters window.

The country imported 265 metric tons of rice in the first two months of 2024 from zero recorded in the same period of 2023, according to data from the Thai Exporters Association export report.