The ongoing closure of Nigeria’s border with the Republic of Benin, which has been hailed by some economists and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)has thrown up a lot of socio-economic issues. Not the least of this is the complaint by consumers, ofthe low quality of locally-produced rice varieties, with some containing stones!Definitely, something urgent has to be done about food safety with regards to the rice that finally gets to the buyers and consumers.
Even as members of the Rice Farmers Association (RIFAN) boast of having the capacity to produce enough for the fellow citizens, the emphasis this time around is not about the quantity but the quality. It calls for standardisation of the rice produced. The local farmers and more so the processors should therefore, be enlightened on what it takes to do so.
On the economic front, rice is one of the staple foods in Nigeria, and the country reportedly consumes almost 7 million tonnes of it in a year. But less than half of this is produced locally. As at February 2017, AlikoDangote raised the alarm over the huge sum of over $2billion per annum spent on rice importation into the country. Dangote made the observation during the inauguration of the Dangote Rice Out Growers Scheme in Goronyo Local Government Area of Sokoto state.
That clearly shows that there is a growing opportunity for local rice production. Let us begin with the local varieties available to Nigerians. According to Akpokodje et-al (2001) rice cultivation is virtually carried out in all the agro-ecological zones of Nigeria. The average rice farm holding in the country is 1-2 hectares. Identified rice varieties cultivated in Nigeria include rain-fed Upland Rice that is predominant in the southern part of country but can also be found in the north. The bulk of cultivation is in Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Edo and Delta States.
Upland rice is typically intercropped with various crops such as vegetables, maize, cassava, yams, and sorghum. Major problems of upland rice are weeds, insects, rodents, birds and rice blast which may results due to mid-season drought.
The other variety is the Rain-Fed Lowland Rice. This accounts for more than half of the total rice land area cultivated in Nigeria. It is found mainly along the flooded river valleys such as Niger, Benue and Kaduna Basins. It is also found in Abakaliki and Ogoja areas of Ebonyi and Cross Rivers, respectively. One of the challenges is that the river banks or Fadama are usually flooded during the rainy season. The average yield per hectare is high at 2.2tons. It can be grown as sole crop with fertilizers/improved seeds with no water control.
Next is the Mangrove Swamp Rice found where the ocean’s tidal action usually cause inundation at high tide and drainage at low tide. The soils are generally more fertile due to the regular deposit of silt during seasonal floods. Identified constraints are high salinity of sulphate acidity, high labour cost, potential negative environmental impacts due to oil exploration.
Irrigated Rice accounts for 16percent of total rice land area in Nigeria. It requires good water control and growing of two crops per annum.The average yield per hectare (3.5 tons).
Our focus therefore, is on proper rice milling, storage and preservation such that the end products are of internationally accepted standards, especially in term of safety. According to Dr. Terry Mabbett, typical milling and processing comprises of 3 stages; namely Husking, Polishing/Whitening and Blending. Grading and Packaging using modern milling process involves a number of additional processes.
Before harvested rice can be consumed as grain, or exposed to further processing into flour, snack foods and beverages, the glumes are removed by hulling.
The first secret to successful processing and storage of post-harvest rice is drying the grain to an optimum moisture level of 12-14 per cent weight/weight (w/w). Moisture contents within this range are sufficiently low to inhibit enzyme action and microbial activity in store. In addition, it facilitates the easy removal of the outer covering (bran or husk) by hulling with minimum breakage of grains to give good quality shelled rice. Rice bran is rich in oil so hulling also extends shelf life of grains by eliminating the source of rancidity. International organisations advise against rice polishing as it removes too much of the Vitamin B’s leading to an increase in deficiency diseases such as ‘Beriberi’.
Modern processing within an integrated ‘rice milling’ operation involves various steps like cleaning, hulling, bran separation from shelled rice, pearling, polishing classification (whole/broken grains) and bagging.
Control of processing, sacking and storage are the next stages. Primary process control points during milling are: Maintenance of grain moisture at 12-14 per cent to facilitate optimum de-husking (hulling) and storage quality. Next is the proper selection of holding times for grain in de-husking and polishing machines. This ensures optimum balance between level of grain breakage and per cent of de-husked grain in the finished rice product.
• Usage of only clean and dry (preferably new) jute or sisal sacks. This avoids risk of contamination and moisture absorption by the grain. If grain is earmarked for transit to a more humid zone then it should be packaged in polythene sacks. Polythene not only stops moisture getting into the bag but also any excess moisture in the grain from getting out.
•Maintaining well ventilated and insect and rodent-free storage conditions prior to retailing is also essential. Next is the re-packing in paper packets for short-term storage and retail and heat-sealed polythene for longer-term storage prior to retail.
Wet processing and parboiling
Parboiling is pre-cooking of rice in water prior to milling. Parboiled rice offers a number of advantages over and above untreated milled rice. Parboiling hardens grain and thereby decreases susceptibility to breakage during the de-husking process and damage by insect pests in store. In addition, it enhances the nutritional quality and value of rice by promoting movement of nutrients from the outer coverings (bran) and into the grain, so they are not removed in the bran during de-husking.
Value-added rice products
Rice grains can be further processed into flour (usually broken grains) biscuits, snacks, breakfast-cereals, beers, wine and distilled spirit. Rice meal is used for animal feed while the valuable rice bran oil can be extracted from the bran. Rice starch is used in a variety of industrial processes. Rice hulls with their high silica content have been used in a wide variety of situations including the manufacture of pressed insulation board, cement tiles and cement breeze blocks, in the glass industry and for road surfacing. Rice straw is used in the manufacture of ‘straw-board’ for the building industry.
What is needed is the sustained support by state, federal government and NGOsfor farmers.For instance, theCentral Bank of Nigeria set up a $130m initiative offering farmers who have at least 1 hectare of land loans at a 9% interest rate, which is below the benchmark interest rate of 14%.The World Bank has also funded several schemes in Nigeria to help boost agriculture, including centres offering equipment and machines at greatly subsidised hire prices to farmers.
The efforts have started bearing fruits as Nigeria is now producing 3.7 million tonnes of rice annually, according to the US Department of Agriculture, World Markets and Trade.
While farmers require access to land, exposure and access to high yielding and early maturing varieties of rice and inputs such as pesticides, herbicides and rice harvesters, processors need stable electric power to succeed. Above all, attracting youth to agriculture must never be politicised!