Rice is a big deal in Nigeria. People love eating it. So the BBC’s
Ijeoma Ndukwe asks: why don’t they grow more of it instead of
importing so much?
A long line of customers queue along a glass divide separating them
from a rice food station at an eatery in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial
capital. Diners can choose between white rice, fried rice and jollof
at this popular local restaurant known as “The White House”.
A steady flow of customers is served in the main hall, and in two
packed adjoining rooms diners are enjoying Nigerian dishes.
Rice is the basis of the popular national dish jollof and a staple
across the country.
The problem is not a lack of land, or that there are not enough people
to grow it in Africa’s most populous country.
During the grain market crisis eight years ago, Nigeria experienced
shortages in rice that made the country rethink its food security and
ability to supply the local market.
As a result, President Muhammadu Buhari has made rice farming a priority.
Nigerians’ appetite for rice means that the country imported nearly 17
million tonnes of it over the past five years. Duties for imported
rice are currently 60% and consumers have seen the price of a bag of
rice double in the past 12 months.
Many domestic players have been entering the market. Olam, a
multi-national agribusiness, set up a rice farm in 2012 in response to
government calls for local players to help feed the 170 million
Nigeria’s rice in numbers
•    Imported nearly 17 million tonnes over the past five years
•    Imported 2.3 million tonnes in 2016
•    2016 demand was 5.2 million tonnes
•    Spends $5m (£4m) a day for rice shipments
•    Rice accounted for 1.26% of the entire budget for 2017
It is a bumpy journey to Olam’s farm in Rukubi village close to the
Benue River in Nasarawa State. The lush green fields of the farm are
an oasis among miles and miles of dusty red road and bushes.
Large metal silos carrying 228,000 tonnes of rice rise up from the
ground, gleaming in the scorching afternoon sun. Manager Anil Nair,
drives us around 4,500 hectares of the farm and mill.
Most of the farm hands have finished work for the day. They usually
work in the rice paddies from 07:00, before the sun gets too hot. Only
a few women remain, standing ankle deep in the paddies, planting rice
This is one of the largest rice farms in Nigeria and although it grows
50,000 tonnes each year, that is still just a small fraction of the
country’s demand.
Media captionSince 2011 Nigeria has imported more than 17 million
tonnes of rice
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation
(FAO), the country imported 2.3 million tonnes in 2016, about half of
the country’s estimated requirements.
Minister of Agriculture Audu Ogbeh says that the culture of
importation has to stop.
“We can’t afford $5m a day for rice shipments in this country. It’s
gone on for 40 years. And I assure you that it’s our reckless policy
of importation that’s brought Nigeria down to where she is now.
Those who keep talking of imports either don’t mean Nigeria well or
simply refuse to recognise the fact that we can’t afford the imports.”
However, most farmers in Nigeria are small scale and struggle to get
the financing they need to improve farming methods and boost their
Image caption Rice consumption in Nigeria is rising rapidly
Members of the Rice Farming Association of Nigeria say they can only
access high-interest loans from commercial banks.
Joseph Jatau Kudu has been farming near the town of Doma in Nasarawa
State since 1982. He says the banks charge as much as 30% to lend
“It’s too high. We end up earning nothing,” he says.
Without the capital to mechanise, workers must do everything on his
15-hectare farm by hand.
“Sometimes the tractors are not available. So now I’m using manual
labour. It’s not as effective as in the case of using a tractor and
it’s one of the reasons I can’t expand.”
‘Pipe dream’
The agriculture minister claims that Nigeria will become
self-sufficient in rice production by the end of the year.
However, critics of government policy not only point to a lack of
spending on agriculture, but also to an under-investment in the entire
value-chain for rice, from field to cooking pot.
Ninety two billion naira ($302m; £240m) was assigned to the sector in
the 2017 budget – only 1.26% of the entire budget for the year.
AgroNigeria’s Managing Director Richard Mbaram says that achieving
self-sufficiency in the next couple of years is merely a “pipe dream”.
“Rice production isn’t willed into existence. It is cultivated and
systematically sown.
“There is research, there is mechanisation, there is warehousing and
storage. There is market opening and market access.
“You cannot drive industrialisation or agro-industrialisation without
connecting the farm gate where the production is happening. Do we have
that? We’re very far back in terms of achieving that.”
In the meantime, Nigerians’ appetite for rice shows no sign of slowing down.

Culled  from BBC

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