What the imminent rice revolution means for Nigerians
By Tukeni Obasi
The rice value chain is one of the eight value chains targeted for transformation and full-scale exploitation under the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA). This is because rice is produced all across the north and south of the country, and yet Nigeria imports about 2,000,000 tonnes of rice per annum – spending N356 billion on imports and earning the title of the second largest rice importer in the world.
In light of this, the plan is to have replaced imported brown rice with locally-produced brown rice by next year. And by 2015, the Nigerian government plans to ban all rice imports and become self-sufficient.
The rice implementation action plan will involve the establishment or improvement – where the mills already exist – of seventeen rice mills across the country. In states like Edo and Taraba, which have a comparative advantage in rice production, the milling capacity of rice will be increased to ensure that rice is stone-free. I n fact, in Taraba, following a partnership with the federal ministry and Dominion Farms, $40 million is already making its way into the region via rice production. The site of transformation is beside the Taraba River, allowing it to enjoy full irrigation (irrigation facilities have also been set up in Sokoto, Niger, Kogi, Kwara, Adamawa, Jigawa, Edo, Anambra, Enugu, Bayelsa, Oyo, and Ogun States).
A small portion (10 percent) of the land in Taraba will be managed by Dominion Farms Ltd, the top investor in the state. This portion will be used for commercial as well as educational purposes. Meanwhile, the bulk of the land (90 percent) will go to farmers in the state who will operate as contract farmers, creating over 15,000 jobs from which the youths stand to benefit most. In eighteen months, the expected turnover is 300,000 MT of rice, enabling Nigeria to immediately slash its imports by 15 percent. With the new mills in Ebonyi, Kebbi and Niger already in operation, and the 14 mills targeted to be established before 2015, there is hope that expected output will be reached. The combined output for the current mills is 900,000 tonnes of milled rice, which is to be complemented by 420,000 tonnes following the establishment of the additional mills.
Dominion Farms Ltd is committed to training 1,200 students a year in agriculture. Some students will be trained in Kenya for six months on rice processing, irrigation systems, farm machinery operation, team building, etc. In fact, fifty students have already begun this exercise. Upon finishing their respective courses, the students will be integrated into the Taraba Farms either as supervisory/managerial personnel or as independent farmers/entrepreneurs with contract lands, which they can use for commercial purposes.
Even though we have many agricultural institutions here in Nigeria where youths can receive training, it is important for the pioneers (as well as some agricultural academics) to be exposed to best practices and techniques in other parts of the continent and form partnerships with like-minded commercial farmers. This training should then be transplanted to our own institutions so that more graduates from Nigerian institutions can be directly absorbed into these transformation farms. Moving a step further, this is the time for our institutions to start working with rice farmers, giving students the practical knowledge they will need for the field work. Moreover, efforts should be made to ensure that agricultural knowledge is complemented with technical business knowledge so that our graduates are not only able to thrive as farmers but are able to maximise output and productivity, becoming model entrepreneurs.
This is also the time for more private sector companies to set their investment gaze on rice farming and invest – like Dominion Farms has done – in this enterprise, working with federal and state governments to lend their expertise where needed while benefitting immensely from the agricultural economy. As for the state governments and ministries, it is hoped that they would double their extension and supervisory efforts to ensure that the effect of government policies are maximised and no areas or communities are left fallow.
For agricultural graduates with skills in rice farming thinking of what to do, it has become really clear the rice revolutionary era has begun. As rice mills and irrigation facilities are being set up in rice-producing states, we would need young, energetic, innovative youths to see the income opportunity and get themselves involved, ultimately contributing to the closure of the import gap. The stories of Cameroonian Patience Atim and Malawian Chikondi Chabvuta, Adesope Samuel, and the scores of other young Nigerian agricultural entrepreneurs, which I have shared on this column, are a testament to the immense potential young people have to see any dream to fruition. It is my hope that more and more people – such as the ones with whom I have interacted over the past month, who have gone to the drawing board, come up with a business plan, and are now making their way to the farms to set up their own enterprises – will keep abreast of the developments in the sector and take advantage of the exciting opportunities to launch their own careers.
As the revolution starts sweeping the nation, the dream of walking into a restaurant or market and knowing that the rice you are eating or buying is not from Thailand but from Taraba, or that our own people are tilling our soils, keeping us well fed and consequently reaping their well deserved rewards; or that our government is making smart financial choices and spending money in areas where it is most needed seems more and more attainable. With our efforts and dedication, we can make it come to pass by 2015.
This post was originally published in BusinessDay