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Border closure: Abia, Ebonyi and Cross River shore up rice production

By Gbenga Akinfenwa (Lagos), Nnamdi Akpa (Abakaliki), Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia) and Agosi Todo (Calabar)
22 December 2019   |   4:20 am
Since the closure of the land borders in August, attention has shifted to the consumption of locally produced rice, to fill the huge gap created by the absence of foreign brands.

• Ebonyi Rice Now A Hot Cake, Says Farmer
• It’s A Blessing To Abia Rice Farmers 
• A Boost To Rice Production In C’River

Since the closure of the land borders in August, attention has shifted to the consumption of locally produced rice, to fill the huge gap created by the absence of foreign brands.

The development presents opportunities for local farmers, who have reportedly increased production capacity and are smiling to the banks.
Currently, a 50kg of parboiled foreign rice, which sold between N12, 000 and N12, 500 has risen to between N24, 000 and N27, 500, while locally produced rice, hitherto poorly patronised now sells between N21, 000 and N24, 000. This depends on the market.

Reports from states that have potential to increase rice production appear hopeful.

This Christmas promises to be good in Ebonyi State, as many families, especially rice farmers and rice merchants, are posting appreciable figures.

Ebonyi rice, popularly know as Abakaliki rice has become a hot cake due to availability, as people from different parts of the country are flooding the state to buy the commodity.

Max and 306 are the two main types of rice cultivated in the state, the soil composition of the state makes it easy for cultivation.

Speaking, a rice farmer Mr. Utobo Uka said he is happy with the development, noting that this year’s Christmas will be memorable in his family.

“This is the first time I am making high sales from rice, this will also boost local production. This year Christmas will be memorable in my family.”

Government support for farmers, especially rice farmers through soft loans, farm inputs and other incentives have also helped in boosting rice production.

A farmer revealed that: “Our rice is now hot cake, people within and outside the country are entering into the state to buy Ebonyi rice, our people are much eager to enter into rice farming, very soon the state will be rice base in Africa.”

During the presentation of the 2020 budget, Governor David Umahi declared that the border closure has improved the economic status of the state.

In Abia, eight of the 17 Local Government Areas are rice producing with an estimated 500,000mt annual output.

Special Adviser to the state Governor, who is also the Coordinator of the State Accelerated Rice Development Programme, Pastor Okechukwu Dike said government runs four rice mills at Acha, Ofeme, Uzuakoli and Bende, with plans to increase the number to bring the mills closer to the rice producing clusters.

He said the border closure and Governor Ikpeazu’s sustained campaign and incentives for rice production has tremendously created wider awareness for production and consumption of locally produced rice in the state.

According to him, there are over 7,000 rice farmers in the state endowed with fertile land, but lamented that rice farming, is still at subsistence level and is affected by attacks by herdsmen.

The Adviser who disclosed that all the rice milled at the four government owned mills are purchased and sold by government agency called Abia Marketing and Quality Assurance Agency, said the rice are packaged in 50kg, 25kg and 12.5 Kg bags.

It was learnt that over 5,000 bags have been order from within the state, even as the agency is under pressure from Abuja and Lagos, especially during this Yuletide season.

It was learnt that there are plans to increase production; as government plans to establish Modular Mini/Small Scale mills, within the rice producing clusters to save farmers the rigors of taking their harvests to mills outside their clusters.

According to a survey conducted, it was revealed that such mills could be procured at between N300, 000 and N400, 000.

Rice farmers in Cross River State are at home with the border closure, as the policy has boosted the production of rice and added value to their trade.

Some of the farmers who are members of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), said with the help of the state government, training of farmers and other supports, they have succeeded in expanding their scale of production through acquiring of more lands to plant and cultivate rice.

One of the farmers, Mrs. Ekaete Okon said before the closure of the borders, she cultivated two plots of lands, mainly for rice but now; she has expanded her farm to four hectares.

Okon, who appealed for permanent closure of the borders called on Nigerians to stop patronising foreign rice and turn to the local rice, which she said is preferable.         

She said: “Before now, I was doing just two plots but last year November, our governor sent us on a training in Nasarawa State, to improve our farming skills. So when we came back, although money was not given to us but through the knowledge we got at the training, we were able to expand our farms, now I have four hectares that I am using to plant rice.

“I saw the impact of the border closure from the sales we are having, unlike before, half bag of rice was N3, 000 and full bag was N6, 000 but now we are selling at N12, 000 a bag, right from the factory and half bag for N6, 500 or N7, 000.

“When the border was not closed, I was somehow discouraged because the price was not encouraging, someone will come and price a cup of rice for N50, but now, some are selling a cup for N100, while some are selling at the rate of N90.  The patronage is overwhelming. When we send paddy to the factory for processing, we’ll be having customers already on ground, waiting to buy from us and you cannot leave your old customers and give to new customers. In fact, the closure of border has really brought in new customers into the business. We should not depend on foreign rice, we should patronise our locally produced rice since we can now cultivate it by ourselves, and I see that local rice is preferable to foreign rice.”

“Federal Government should still keep the borders closed and then empower us more so we can produce larger quantity that will go round the country.”

The State Secretary General, RIFAN, Mr. Oliver Ntui, said with the support of the state government, rice farmers have been trained in various areas of agriculture to enhance farmers in the production of rice.

Ntui who is also the chairman of Cross River State Farmers’ Cooperatives Empowerment (CR-FACE), said the state is set to develop land for farmers that are interested and also promote new farmers that are into rice as new agro premiers.
He said: “For us in the value chain, border closure is a very happy news and farmers jubilated because all this while, the efforts of the farmers were not recognised and because of importation of rice from other countries, they couldn’t have much value for their produce, so we received it with happiness. It also added value in terms of demand of the produce and so we have to commend the Federal Government for the border closure.”