By Ifeanyi Nwoko
Experts bemoan the fact that Nigeria spends over N600 billion every year on the importation of rice and wheat, while the country has the capacity to produce the commodities to satisfy its local needs and even for export.
They particularly stress that the country has no business importing rice, as the farmers have access to 62 varieties of high-yielding rice species produced by research institutes in the country.
Dr Mark Ukwungwu , the Acting Executive Director, National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI) Badeggi, Niger, who spoke on the potential of rice production in Nigeria, said that the institute had produced 62 varieties of rice since its inception.
NCRI — the oldest research institute in the country — was originally founded by the Lagos Colonial Protectorate Administration of Gov. Alfred Moloney in 1898 and it assumed its present name via Decree 13 of 1975.
The institute has the mandate to conduct research on six crops — rice, soybeans, acha, benne seed, castor oil seed and sugar cane.
Ukwungwu explained that the high-yielding varieties of rice were developed in collaboration with other research institutes.
“What we do here basically is research; we carry out research on six crops and rice is a major one. We have done a lot in producing rice varieties.
“The institute, in collaboration with other organisations in Nigeria and beyond, has been able to develop and release 62 rice varieties in the country for the upland, lowland, mangrove and deep water areas.
“These varieties have been released and they are available; when we develop varieties like that, we make them available.
“Normally, the institute does not go directly to farmers, our limit is interaction with the Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs); that’s where our work stops,’’ he said.
However, Dr Samuel Agboire, the Head of the Research Support Services Department of NCRI, underscored the need for all stakeholders to play their roles effectively to enable the country’s farmers to utilise the numerous research findings.
“There is a role for farmers and there is a role for government to play in terms of policy; so, unless all these roles are harmonised, there would be a problem in the production chain.
“If we release varieties and there are technologies in place for these varieties to manifest fully but in instances where the farmers are not using the technologies fully, their efforts will not yield the desired results.
“For instance, you recommend the application of a particular quantity of fertiliser and the farmer is using less than that; the rice variety will not realise its full potential.
“For example, if the government comes up with a policy that favours importation, farmers would be discouraged because imported produce may be cheaper than the locally produced ones.
“So, there are so many factors that are responsible for that situation,’’ he added.
All the same, experts stress the need for the government to provide an environment that is conducive to efforts to improve rice production in the country.
Dr Maji Iswako, a plant breeder at the NCRI, said that efforts to boost rice production involved both the farmer and the environment.
“The environment is the major factor. The question that should be asked is: how far has the government gone to deliberately create that enabling environment to enable farmers to express themselves?”
He argued that farmers in rice exporting countries did not produce under conditions that were akin to those under which Nigerian farmer was operating.
“The Nigerian farmer is faced with rain-fed ecology where you cannot control water; you apply fertiliser today, rainwater washes it away tomorrow.
“Farmers don’t have the resources; some Nigerian farmers cannot even afford a bag of fertiliser for a hectare where you need about six bags; so, the government must invest in infrastructure for production,” he said.
Iswako urged the government to stop rice importation and to put in place purposeful policies that would boost rice production.
“Basically, the continuous importation of rice is a policy issue. There has to be a deliberate policy to boost rice production if rice importation must stop.
“The yield gap between research estimates and actual farmers’ yield is so wide; in a farmland where you ought to get seven tonnes of rice, hardly will you see a farmer getting even up to three tonnes.
“If the structure is not well developed, you cannot even attract more people into the system,” he added.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Segun Atho, the President (South-West Zone) of Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), urged the government to adopt decisive measures to stop the importation and smuggling of rice into the country.
“Smugglers are seriously killing the acceptability of local rice in the market; we don’t have local rice as much as the foreign ones in the markets.
“Government needs to come out and help us to deal with the issue so as to encourage local rice growers.
“If the Federal Government can review the trade liberalisation scheme and close the borders to smuggled goods, this will aid efforts to improve the production of local rice in the country,’’ he said.
Beyond that, the CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, urged the government to invest funds, which were set aside for rice importation annually, in massive rice production.
He also said that there were several funding packages initiated by the apex bank to promote agricultural production, insisting that the low allocation of funds for agriculture in national and state budgets was not good enough.
Sanusi also noted that the absence of basic infrastructure and amenities in the rural areas had contributed to the poor living conditions of the rural dwellers.
However, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, reiterated the government’s commitment to support dry season rice cultivation.
He said that the Federal Government had put in place additional incentives for domestic milling of locally produced paddy rice.
“The challenges of local rice, which have been discouraging consumers, especially when compared to imported rice, have been overcome,’’ the minister said.
As an added incentive, Adesina said that the government would provide subsidy for rice farmers in form of free transportation of their produce to warehouses.
The minister reiterated the commitment of the Federal Government to ban rice importation by 2015.
All in all, observers urge the government to harness and streamline all its policies aimed at boosting local rice production and stemming rice importation.
Source: Citizens Platform
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