Rice needs no introduction to any Nigerian. It is the most consumed grain and can be referred to as the most important food in the country. You’re certain to find raw rice or its numerous cooked forms at almost every corner of any street in Nigeria. Despite being known as a country with diverse local sumptuous delicacies, Nigerians can’t do without rice… and it’s not just Jollof! As the largest producer of rice in Africa responsible for about 55% of the continent’s 14.6 million tonnes produced annually, its such a worry that most Nigerians will rather consume imported rice over local options.
Local farmers have blamed that on the influx of foreign rice readily available in the nation at seemingly cheaper rates, their efforts have been frustrated due to the proximity of the nation to Cameroon and Benin Republic. Smugglers not only took advantage of the porous routes to smuggle rice, but also maximized the smuggling of other farm produce and poultry products into the country, making the locally produced foods and produce uncompetitive, and in the process sabotaging the economy.
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However, the reverse is now the case as Agribusiness is booming and the farmers smile to the bank daily, reaping fruits of their labor as a result of border policy-induced demand, improved varieties of rice seeds, etc The Federal Government’s decision to close the nation’s borders has halted smuggling activities and opened up an avenue for local farmers to get their agricultural produce to consumers, who are gradually patronizing them better now more than before.
The availability of local rice has skyrocketed and is gradually being accepted all over the country. Nigeria boasts a variety of rice strains with Ofada Rice, Abakiliki rice and Paddy rice gaining more popularity over the last few months. Its easier to get Ofada rice on the streets of Lagos these days than 12 months ago where you’d have to make a special request to get Ofada, similarly, Paddy rice and Abakiliki rice is gaining more traction in the North and southeast respectively as Rice Framing Practices has increased in these regions in the last six months.
The Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Muhammad Sabo Nanono, has lauded the effort of rice farmers in Nigeria, stating that their farm practices will help actualize Government’s agenda in the Agricultural sector being food sufficiency, job creation, and economic growth. Nanono noted that the Nation’s land border closure had resulted in an accelerated and increased output by rice milling plants in Nigeria, adding the boost would reduce the high rate of unemployment. The Minister reiterated that with the improved production rate, Nigeria rice is bound to compete favorably in the global market the moment exportation begins.
In all fairness to consumers who don’t trust the quality of the locally produced rice, Stoning was a major turn off during the early stages of mass local rice consumption. Farmers have risen to the task accordingly and urged logistics companies/Loaders responsible for repacking the grains to aid make the rice experience a smoother and better one. Asides stoning, pricing has also risen as another disadvantage of local rice, the price of local rice seems to increase by the week with no regulation of prices in the market.
The Minister also lashed out at farmers/retailers seeking to extort Nigerians by inflating rates in the market, he said that “I see no reason why a 50kg bag of rice should be sold for N17,000, the same paddy rice is sold at N8,500 and maximum processing expense is N2,000 making a total of N10,500, it is unpatriotic to sell a bag more than N14,000 – N 15,000.”
‘’if we maintain this momentum in the next two years, we may export rice to other countries’’ Nanono said. Nanono’s claims are entirely achievable considering Nigeria spends an average of US $22 billion (₦7.92trn) each year on food imports. Its major food imports include rice, wheat, sugar, and fish – all of which can be processed and made in Nigeria. Rice alone accounts for about US$1.65 billion, most of which is imported from Thailand and India. Investing that sum in the agricultural sector will empower farmers and improve rice production to meet international standards and rival mega exporters like Thailand and India, who are directly responsible for 52.8% of total rice exports globally.
By promoting sustainable farming practices and providing necessary farm machineries, seedlings, subsidies, etc to local farmers, rice production will yield maximum produce of the highest quality which can adequately meet and feed the demands of the nation and maybe enhance exportation, first to neighboring (non-rice producing) countries and subsequent intercontinental trade in the nearest future. Investing in the Agric sector will reduce over-reliance on crude oil and create a diverse channel to grow the economy and national GDP.