Border reopening and Nigerian rice revolution, By Agbaji Chinedu

Rice is one of the most consumed staples in Nigeria, with a consumption per capita of 32kg. In the past decade, consumption has increased 4.7%, almost four times the global consumption growth, and reached 6.4 million tonnes in 2017 – accounting for c.20% of Africa’s consumption. As at 2011, rice accounted for 10% of household food spending, and 6.6% of total household spending*. Given the importance of rice as a staple food in Nigeria, boosting its production has been accorded high priority by the government in the past 7 years. Significant progress has been recorded; rice production in Nigeria reached a peak of 3.7 million tonnes in 2017.

Despite this improvement, comparatively, Nigeria’s rice statistics suggest there is an enormous potential to raise productivity and increase production. Yields have remained at 2-3 tons per hectare, which is about half of the average achieved in Asia. In addition, as population increases, along with rural to urban migration, ensuring food security in key staple foods like rice becomes critical. However, food security cannot be achieved by a system that depends almost entirely on human muscle power/other manual methods, unimproved seedling and government policy somersaulting.

Nigeria spends an average of US $22 billion (₦7.92trn) each year on food imports. Its major food imports include wheat, sugar and fish. Another big import, rice, accounts for about US$ 1.65 billion or #0.59trn. Most of the country’s rice is imported from Thailand and India.

This has led analysts to predict it will be the world’s second largest importer of rice after China in 2019 but with the ban on rice importation in Nigeria this theory will not see the light of the day. There is a lot of opportunities in Nigeria rice production as the revelation has started if only government policy on rice importation remains that means we will get it right as investors continues to take advantage of the gap different between what we produce and what we import to meet consumption demand. Some nutritionist says that the local rice is healthy more than the imported rice because it is fresh and the nutritional value is high.

However, there are factors that need to be considered for the rice revolution that have started to be sustained such as GOVERNMENTS POLICIES, the issue of border reopening: The instability and somersaulting nature of Nigerian government policies; today they ban rice importation, days later it will be lifted. This act discourages investors. As at today, Nigerian Entrepreneurs have invested so much in rice production value chain that government should be careful of its policy direction on border reopening so as not to undermine their efforts. Government should stand on the rice importation ban for the local rice production to be improved through mechanization and improved processing system. Government regulations on farm inputs has led to high inputs costs as a result it affects the cost of the output such as cost of credit, imported equipment, improved seeds, agrochemicals due to taxes (multiple legal and illegal taxation), tariffs and duties.  Am of the opinion that Government could do more than offering loans and setting up credit facilities by identifying and involving public-private-partnership with stakeholders of proven track records in formulating policies that will help the growth of the Nigerian rice sector. This the booming business investment opportunity that has the capacity to create number of jobs, food security and wealth creation.

MECHANISATION is another factor that will sustain rice revolution: Nigeria’s mechanization has remained low at 0.3 hp/ha, relative to 2.6hp/ha in India and 8 hp/ha in China. The number of agricultural tractors is estimated around 22,000, relative to 1 million and 2.5 million in China and India respectively. Low income, limited access to affordable financing and the lack of technical skills have limited the adoption of mechanization across the rice value chain.

We estimate that increasing the mechanization rate in Nigeria from 0.3hp/ha to 0.8hp/ha in the next 5 years, can double rice production to 7.2 million tonnes. To achieve this, we estimate that Nigeria will need to at least triple its current stock of machinery over the same period. In addition to raising production, adequately increasing mechanization has the capacity to raise yields, increase labour productivity, reduce post-harvest losses, increase income generated by farmers and deepen import substitution. Nigeria’s mechanization gap provides numerous opportunities for investment across the agricultural value chain. To attract the required investment, the government needs to create an enabling environment that ensures mechanization is profitable. With stable policies on rice mechanized farming and processing can be achieved in no distance time as the demand for rice continue to be high.

More so, IMPROVED RICE SEEDS is key to sustaining rice revolution in Nigeria, good quality seed has the potential to generate increase in rice yield and make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production. However, farmers’ access to this seed is a function of many factors that has not been well documented in Nigeria. Recent advances in biotechnology have paved way for the development of hybrid seeds which are not only high-yielding but also resistant to pests, diseases and climate change effects. Some agricultural experts believe that the success of Nigeria’s efforts to boost agricultural production and attain food security would largely depend on the availability and effective use of improved seeds for cultivation.

They, therefore, underscore the need for all stakeholders in the agricultural sector to be fully conscious of the role of improved seed varieties in efforts to enhance agricultural production and facilitate the Federal Government’s plans to rely on agriculture in its economic diversification schemes.

They also call on the government to encourage large and smallholder farmers to adopt improved seed varieties in their cultivation so as to increase their harvests and nation’s agricultural output.

Hon. Munir Babba Dan Agundi, Member, House of Representatives, team during field days at AfricaRice research station in M’bé, Côte d’Ivoire, 26-27 June 2019, on hybrid rice seed advocated for, “The hybrids should be made available to farmers in Nigeria as quickly as possible, along with training.” But up till today nothing has been had about it. This as well boost our production.

For instance, Dr Philip Ojo, the Director-General of the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), said that the country’s farmers should use improved seed varieties to boost crop productivity, create jobs and improve their income. Research institutes and universities also have a role to play. All of this and more is necessary to ensure that Nigeria’s own rice production improves and that the sector grows.

Finally, government should be watchful of its policy direction on border reopening so as not to undermine the efforts Agro entrepreneurs not only on the fast-growing Nigerian rice value chain but on all Agricultural produce production value chain that has improved since the border closure.

Agbaji Chinedu writes from Kaduna: contact: 08035004617, [email protected]