- Despite the economic recession in Nigeria, rice is still one of the most consumed foods among Nigerians, both rich, poor, and the middle class income earners
- Most states in the country, from north to south east, produce rice for local consumption
- Delta state has put modalities in place to join the league of rice producing states in the country
If the economic crunch affects the demand for every other product in the Nigerian market, one product that is sure to remain unaffected is rice. With time, the demand for this product has continued to increase, while local production in the country is still at a meagre 200-250 thousand tons. It is consumed by the rich, the poor and middle-income earners. It can be cooked cheap with little or no ingredients, and can also be cooked with all sorts of assorted accompaniments.
For this reason, the government has continued to make efforts to promote rice production locally in order to meet the demand of the Nigerian populace, and possibly ban the importation of the product from other countries. Due to the requirements for growing rice, it is majorly grown in the valley of River Niger and its tributaries – Sokoto, Kaduna, Kano, Benue, alongside some other states like Enugu, Ebonyi and Cross River depending on the terrain, different methods are used in rice production, to produce different kinds of rice though all produced locally.
Nigerian farmers in the North majorly produce UMZA rice, while from Niger state, Mama Happy rice is the main product of rice in the state. In the southern states like Enugu, Cross River and Ebonyi, the rice produced in these states bear the same name as the states it is produced from.
Nigeria’s largest rice production enterprises, Capital Rice, the largest rice exporter in Thailand, has offered to combine efforts with West African conglomerate, Stallion Group, to create a joint venture for the management of rice plant in Nigeria. African countries buy different varieties of Thai rice, but parboiled rice still remains the most loved among consumers of the Western coast of the continent.
Nigerians consume about 5.5million tonnes of rice annually and even though the amount of rice locally produced is 3.6million tonnes and the amount imported is 1.9million tonnes, it’s still enough to put Nigeria as one of the highest importers of rice in the world. Nigeria currently spends over N300billion yearly to import rice to the country. This is because local production of rice has failed to satisfy the high demand for rice in the country.
Therefore, as part of measures to improve local production of rice, and enlist Delta state among the major producers of rice in Nigeria, the Delta state government led by Senator Ifeanyi Okowa has introduced a range of empowerment programmes to boost the agricultural sector. One of these programmes, Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP) involved the selected youths being trained in the cultivation, production and processing of rice before being empowered with starter packs to begin rice production in the state.
The pioneer beneficiaries who were tagged YAGEPreneur, after the name of the programme were established in a 74 hectare farmland and allotted 2 hectares per person. With it, they were charged to address the deficit supply of rice in the country as it has a high market potential, despite its cultivation having a short life cycle.
The starter pack provided is a total package that was expected to generate at least 3.5 tons per hectare, hence the investment if sustained will make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production. At the end of the production cycle which is expected to end within four months, the rice is to be branded, “Delta YAGEP Rice.”
Delta state chief job creation officer, Prof Eric Eboh, who represented the governor during the event, noted that each beneficiary was provided with leased 2 hectares of land suitable for rain-fed rice cultivation; mechanized land preparation, ploughing and harrowing; certified farrow 44 long grain seeds; mechanized planting of seeds; 6 inorganic fertilizers, Urea and NPK; herbicides and bird repellants at fruiting stage, applied through mechanical methods.
Other items included a tarpaulin; 100 harvesting bags, a stainless basin, brooms, parkers, mechanized harvesting of paddy (tractor-operated); mechanized threshing and winnowing; monthly stipend for 6 months and a micro credit with a moratorium of 6 months, 9% interest rate and repayable within 12 months and technical assistance throughout the production cycle.
With this target still in view, Delta state government recently registered over 30,000 farmers across various sectors to boost production of cassava, oil palm, rice and fisheries through the anchor borrowers programme organized by the CBN. Mr Austin Chikezie, the state commissioner for agriculture and natural resources, said that there were adequate plans to ensure that the rice cultivated in the state meets international standards, as the state government has approved NGN51 million to boost its production by ensuring all season farming.
This increase in rice production to meet with the needs of Nigeria is the only way the anticipated policy of the government to place a ban on importation of rice into the country would have a soft landing with Nigerians. This explains why Delta state governor Ifeanyi Okowa recently urged rice farmers to toe the footsteps of Illah farmers by showing full commitment to the production of rice, and thus position themselves to benefit from federal government's assistance.
Illah, as a community, is positioned to make Delta state the next food basket of the nation as the rice production from this community alone has shown that Delta has the potential to favorably compete with every other state in the league of rice producing states. With the support being given by the state government both in terms of infrastructure to increase the quality and funds to increase the quantity, it is only a matter of months before the Delta state rice compete with other states, and take its place in the local market.
With the funding also expected from the Central Bank of Nigeria anchor borrowers programme, it is only a matter of time before they hit the foreign market and start exportation of local rice. At this stage, the foreign rice would have been completely replaced in the Nigerian food market.
Other rice producing communities in Delta state are Ebu, Oko in Oshimili north, Ajigba, a remote Itsekiri community along the Warri river, Adagbrasa community, Okpe local government area and many other communities spread across different local government areas in Delta state.
Watch this NAIJ.com video