Interview

Govt should subsidise local rice production chain -Specialist

 

A senior rice specialist at the Africa Rice Centre, a pan-African rice
research organisation, Philip Idinoba, says the reason a bag of
imported rice costs as much as its local variety is as a result of the
cost of production in the rice value chain in Nigeria.
The centre works with the International Institute of Tropical
Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan. Mr Idinoba spoke in Abuja that the
government should subsidise the production process to help reduce the
cost of local rice. Excerpts:

In recent times, the price of imported rice appears to be similar to
the local blend. Why do you think this is so?
The reason for this is simple: The cost of production of local rice is
quite high. Before now, the government was working on three tracks –
improving quality, improving quantity and improving efficiency along
the value chain.
The efficiency along the value chain is tied down to these three factors.
For instance, a rice miller in Anambra State will have to go to Niger
State, moving from village to village to mop up the rice paddy that
will be taken to Ebonyi State or something like that.
The cost of transportation alone is very high. Also, these millers do
not have electricity supply most of the time. The cost of servicing
the generators, like supplying diesel, is very expensive.
In addition, they do not have a good mechanism to run these mills. Any
little problem, they will have to look for an Indian who works with
Mikano to replace the parts. So, they are still facing serious
problems in all the mills.
Then, we take it back a little to the farms. The cost of production
per hectare is also very high. We don’t have technology for
transplanting or harvesting.
The variety we are using can take up to nine tonnes. Only a few
farmers get up to six tonnes, because the production environment is
not so well-developed.
One can have a variety that can produce nine tonnes. But, if one does
not level the ground in a way that one can control the water, and the
water will rise into the plot. If you put 9:20 fertiliser blend, only
20 per cent of the fertiliser will be utilised. Others will be wasted.
That way, farmers will not get the benefits of using that quantity of
fertilizer. But, if you can get to an environment where the land is
well irrigated, bring in water, take out water, you can apply the
quantity of fertilizer needed and you will get plant optic at above 70
per cent.
Then, one would be sure of getting the yield one expects. But, we
don’t have that here. So, what people are doing is very little to get
what they can get.
You can plant with fertiliser today, and it doesn’t rain for the next
two days. If it is Nitrogen, then the fertiliser is wasted. So, at
production level, people in Kebbi and Sokoto States, some of them use
like 250,000 per hectares of land.
As you go down South, cost of production is dropping, because most of
the farmers are not using very intensive methods.
If you go to Anambra State, for instance, they just throw the rice to
the fields and just expect that everything will grow well.
But, the people in the North, like Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto and Kebbi
States, try to prepare their fields. They transplant and do all the
things they need to do and prepare for eight tonnes.
Indeed, some of them are getting up to that. But, if the other factor,
like water availability, is not controlled, one cannot guarantee other
factors, then you may not get it.
The higher the yields one gets, the lesser the cost of production per
unit area. If I use a cost of N100 to produce, and I get two bags, or
I begin to get four bags, it means the effective cost is N50, not
N100.
Improved productivity increases the yield. We don’t have technology
for planting or harvesting. This is one of the bottlenecks the
Nigerian government is having.
One thing the government would have done would have been to subsidize
the cost of fertilizer. This is what we call mass subsidy on the
fertilizer. Rather than the farmer picking the fertilizer at the
N10,000 a bag, the farmer would have been getting it 50 per cent the
price.
In that circumstance, is there any role the government can play to cut
down the price?
The only thing I think the government can do would be to pay the
remaining 50 per cent to the fertilizer manufacturing company under
some kind of arrangement.
These are the indirect involvement of institutions like the Central
Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other agencies involved in agriculture.
It is mass subsidy because the money is not given directly to the
farmers. But somehow the government is cushioning the production of
rice in the country.
So, if one uses six bags of fertilizer alone, at N10,000, already this
is N60,000. And if one transplants with another N40,000, one is
already on an N100,000, not to talk of weeding, harvesting, and all
the rest of it.
So, the cost of producing rice in Nigeria is still very high. We can
reduce the cost in two ways.
First, through subsidy and two, increasing productivity, so that the
amount of output will get higher per unit area.
The third point is the introduction of technology to reduce the cost
of production.
The places we import rice from are like Nigeria. But, their
governments subsidize their production. For instance, India, Vietnam,
China, and Thailand provide subsidies for their farmers.
But they hide it, because they don’t want to be accused of favouring
one sector over the others. You call it a smart subsidy.
The (Goodluck) Jonathan administration was doing it through the
E-wallet thing where farmers were given fertilizers and seeds free.
That was the kind of subsidy used to trash the challenges and we were
getting results. What’s bad was that since the present government came
in, we have not seen any of the previous administration’s polices
implemented.
Cost of production in those other countries are low, because their
governments subsidised and they have some simple technology to produce
and still have good environment.
Our soils are varying, while their soils are homogeneous. Their soils
are deep and clear. They can use tractors one million times without
disturbing the soil.
But ours is different, especially the upland. If one uses tractors,
then one will not be able to use that soil again, unless one has to
find a solution.
A lot of people say tractors should be given to farmers. But, our
soils are so fragile. These are the factors that make our rice much
more expensive. Once it is easier for one to go to the backyard and
pick a bag for N50 and sell it for N150, the attraction will still be
there.
Whether border closure or not, with time people will devise a means of
beating the Nigeria Customs operating at the borders and bring in the
rice.
Do you think Nigerian rice farmers can produce enough to meet the
consumption demands?
Within two seasons, we can produce enough to meet local demand if the
right things are done. But, the government does not have the political
will to do the right thing.
If the farmers planting rice during the wet season from Sokoto to
Ebonyi States, the majority are relying on rain for their production.
In the wet season, every farmer who wants to plant rice can plant
rice, whether in the upland system or in the lowland system.
Most of our rice is 90 to 120-day variety. So, if they were six
million and we can still get half of them, that is three million, to
plant in the dry season, then we will soon come out of the problem.
People will tell you they are going to promote dry season farming.
But, only a few places have water to practice dry season farming.
In Kano, Sokoto, Kebbi and Jigawa Zones, a lot of dams have been
developed there. Kebbi State, for instance, we can get water in three
metres.
The rivers in Sokoto and Zamfara States made it possible for the
presence of good ground water and they are well connected.
People in this area can get water at two to three metres, maximum of
six metres. But, if you try to dig in Adani (Anambra State), you don’t
get it in 15 metres.
We actually brought farmers from the North who dug this to help those
in Anambra State, they had to dig to 15 metres, but their rods were
not more than 12 metres.
Most of our people who grow rice during the dry season are people who
pump water from the rivers, or dig the borehole they are using. The
government needs to prepare, make water available.
I hope you have heard of rivers rising and water carrying people
around? These are not curses, but blessings.
We are not taking the opportunity of the good resources we have. If
Niger River was dredged, all that water will contain there and it will
be used for transportation of cows to have enough water, whether it is
for RUGA or not.
Why is Kano State the home of agriculture in Nigeria? Because the
Ahmadu Bello’s government in the 1960’s was able to build small water
bodies.
Kano State alone has 39 dams. High water bodies, which are used for
fishing. People are usually surprised that fishes come out from Kano.
If you have 39 water bodies, which are state-owned, not to talk of the
Federal-owned.
If all the states in the North have the same amount of dams like Kano,
then we are good to go. Anywhere you have those water bodies, the
microenvironment changes. Evaporation that will give rise to rainfall.
Funny enough, we have a good environment that will enable all these
things. But, the government deliberately does not do it. This is not
rocket science. We are not using our brains.
To build a dam, does it cost a lot? All a state government needs to do
is to survey where they can trap water and release the water. In two
years, we can be self-sufficient.
They can try to dig wells or boreholes. We have them in Anambra and
Enugu States. So, we can place them in farmers’ stead. Clusters of
about 20 to 100 farmers on that farm and use industrial boreholes to
irrigate their farms. So, we can produce our rice in the wet and dry
seasons.
But, if we keep doing what we are doing, thinking that one crop will
take us out, then we are just joking. We are making efforts, but the
efforts are not marginal, because the rate at which people are
consuming rice is at 5-to 7 per cent, because the population is
growing at 3 per cent.
How will the late rains affect rice production in the country?
The late rains is good for rice production. In 2017, rice farmers in
Orumba in Anambra State cultivated rice in August. And we were all
screaming no. But, it came out well.
From Anambra to Port Harcourt, one can expect rain throughout
December. One still gets one or two rainfalls in January.
If we are very serious-minded that we want to improve the local rice
production, then we should trap all these rain and put them where they
are to be.
It will be beneficial. They need to restructure their farming calendar
season and make use of data. It is not bad. This is the water we would
have trapped. But here we are allowing it to go away. We have to get
serious.
Culled from: PREMIUM TIMES

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