Despite security challenges faced in the northeast, farmers in the region still go out of their way to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production.
Before the era of Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), Nigeria spends an average of $22 billion (N7.92trn) each year on food imports.
A major big import then was rice which accounts for about $1.65 billion, or N0.59trn.
The ABP has so far saved Nigeria N369 billion per annum, while the country consumes N1.5 billion worth of rice every day. This breakthrough has saved the country the challenge of sourcing forex or devaluing Nigeria’s currency to finance this monstrous import wage bill.
Following this development, some rice-producing states, including Borno, Kebbi, Ebonyi, and Jigawa have made giant strides in the Buhari administration efforts to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production.
Speaking on the Borno rice pyramid unveiled on March 2018, the Chief Executive Officer, Wal-Wanne and Sons Limited, Dr Abiso Kabir, said despite the setback suffered in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents, he was able to mobilise more than 18,000 farmers across the state and provided them with funding, expertise and mechanization to yield positive outcome through the anchor borrowers programme of the central bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Bank of Agriculture ( BOA).
Dr Kabir said 33,000 bags of rice unveiled shows how much the government is doing in the Agricultural sector.
The farmer who said the subsequent unveiling of pyramids across states underscores the need to showcase agriculture to unemployed youths as an enterprise and the imperative of returning to the farm to guarantee wealth creation and food security said a lot needs to be done to encourage farmers in the country.
According to him, farmers face a lot of challenges which leads to discouragement. He said, “some are natural factors, which include climate change, weeds, pests and diseases. These, of course, affect farmers all over the world; the problem is that Nigeria lacks the infrastructure (like irrigation facilities) and planning to mitigate these realities.
Money is another big issue. Rice farmers in Nigeria have limited access to credit facilities. Those who do obtain loans often default on repayments and are not able to use the money to build their enterprises. Furthermore, rice farming is an expensive business: machinery, seeds, fertilisers and other agrochemicals cost a great deal of money.
These factors leave many, especially small-scale, rice farmers in Nigeria living below the poverty line.
Speaking further on the barrier, a farmer based in Maiduguri, Mohammed Ajiya, said the country’s land tenure system is another barrier to farmers’ success.
Ajiya said Nigeria also has not invested enough in training farmers. There’s a lack of knowledge about how to use pesticides and herbicides among others.
According to him, “mechanisation is rare. This is partly because it costs so much money, and partly because farmers tend to stubbornly stick to the old ways of doing things. The average Nigerian rice farmer depends on rudimentary and time consuming crude tools like hoes, slashers, sickles, axes and rakes for various farm operations.
Dr Kabir who said the government could do much more to support rice farmers said it 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.
“I believe this will encourage rice farmers and more pyramids will be unveiled for the country to become self-sufficient in rice production because we have enough land suitable for rice production,” he said.
He called on Borno State government to involve public-private-partnership with stakeholders to boost production.
“The government alone cannot work towards self-sufficiency, they need private individuals who are experienced to achieve this,” he said.
Dr. Kabir further reiterated the need for the government to deploy resources to boost production capacity in the country.
“I don’t think the whole of Nigeria has up to 200,000 tractors, so we need to invest heavily in the deployment of machinery across the country for all of the rice beds for people to be interested in farming.”
On food security, he said Nigeria can be self-sufficient within the next within three years, if all resources are put in place.
Challenges against rice production
On the challenges militating against rice production in the country, a farmer based in Adamawa State, Aliyu Isah noted that the country must also fight against the external forces that are militating against its local farmers and producers.
He said there should be a synergy between the state, local and the Federal Government when it comes to harmonising relationships, the differences and the area of challenges that are being faced across these levels of government.
While reiterating the need for investments in machinery, infrastructure, agro-processing, research, and in every sector of the economy that is capable of supporting a massive revolution in agriculture, he said: “We have made progress but we are not there yet, we have the potential and the capacity to become food sufficient within the next decade.
While lamenting over the security threats in the state, Dr Kabir called for an urgent collaboration between the state, federal government and all relevant stakeholders to end the scourge.
“Boko Haram militants, drought and pests have combined to wreak havoc on farmlands in Borno State, leading to low output and huge losses to the farmers”, he said.