THE COMMON-SENSE RICE REVOLUTION: STORY OF A 34 YEAR OLD FARMER
With booming and fast-growing farming centers in every part of Nigeria, including the semi-dry savannah's of the Middle Belt region and the North, for many years now, rice farming has become a profitable enterprise for many small, medium, and large-scale holding farmers.
With an approximate annual demand of between 5 to 6.4 million metric tons a year, Nigeria ranks among the top 12 rice consuming countries in the world. However, much of this consumption capacity is largely catered to by the importation of rice from other rice-producing countries.
For example, Dangote Industries, the largest rice producer in Nigeria, has a landholding of 100,000 hectares, which barely scrapes the tip of the iceberg of Nigeria's rice needs – even if it is assumed that 9 tons of rice is produced by each hectare of land annually. This means that, although there is a clear deficiency in Nigeria's rice-production regime, an opportunity in this problem can also be found.
Enter Rotimi Williams of Kereksuk Rice Farm, the second largest rice production company in Nigeria. Mr. Williams, 34, who prides himself as being a rice farmer that is focused on a commonsensical approach to both business and farming, believes that Nigeria needs to begin to take the initiative to ensure that it becomes more self-dependent in its domestic production capacity.
Williams in an interview with Daily Trust hails the recent 'Rice Revolution' led by Nigeria's former Minister for Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, who is the President-elect of the African Development Bank for allowing stakeholders in the farming process, from the rice producers to the millers, to benefit from the 2014/2015 rice allocation. That arrangement, Williams believes, helped to ensure continued investment in the rice sector through backward integration.
Nonetheless, despite the positive effects of the backward integration policy, Williams claims that as soon as Adesina wrapped up his tenure as Minister, the bureaucrats that took over from him drafted a new allocation that excluded rice producers, and only favoured rice millers. This situation, if allowed to run its course, William says, would lead to a situation whereby the millers would eventually encounter a shortage of producers – which would lead to a further decline in Nigeria's domestic rice production capacity.
Under the Buhari administration, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been working to plug many of the leakages and loopholes that lead to decreased revenues in the country. In this regard, the CBN has announced a ban of rice importers from accessing Forex. This situation, according to Williams, is meant to encourage more investment and participation in the domestic production sector. Nevertheless, although such policies are helpful, Williams states that a more thorough understanding of the rice market would help Nigeria yield more in that sector.
“The issues of insufficient rice production in Nigeria cannot simply be narrowed down to rice importation,” Williams said, “But a failure to fully understand the rice value chain and address the issues that affect the value chain.”
Williams goes on to state that the importing of rice is a clear indication of Nigeria's inability to adequately deal with some of the critical issues that affect it. This, Williams believes, has led to a situation whereby traders have taken advantage of certain inadequacies and flaws in the system to benefit their pockets – to the detriment of the market, and other parties concerned.
Moving forward, Williams who believes that an opportunity exists for Nigeria to take charge of its rice consumption capacity, reveals that if the CBN is willing to address the entire funding of the entire rice value chain, and not just ban the importation of rice, long-term sustainable systems can be formed that will contribute to Nigeria's rice market, and in turn, benefit our GDP and our economy.
With Williams taking the bull by the horn and joining to shape the future of rice production in Nigeria, it would be beneficial for Nigeria and Africa to encourage young Nigerians to take up farming as the development of our continent depends greatly on our ability to feed ourselves.
Written by Oluwatosin Fabiyi, a public affairs analyst.