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Rice stakeholders lament challenges of production, demand road upgrade

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy Desk
23 December 2019   |   3:35 am
Rice farmers, processors and researchers have lamented high cost of transportation, shortage of electricity supply, scanty irrigation facilities and expensive planting

Rice paddies being dried after perboiling PHOTO: FEMI IBIROGBA

Rice farmers, processors and researchers have lamented high cost of transportation, shortage of electricity supply, scanty irrigation facilities and expensive planting inputs as challenges confronting the industry despite the market created through the government policies on food importation.

Since August this year, the movement of humans and goods has been restricted through the neighbouring land borders, surging up demands for locally produced and processed food items.

Demand for local rice, poultry products, and chickens, in particular, have become maximum. The end of one problem appears to be the beginning of another. Meeting demand for rice has again come to the front burner as production, processing, and distribution of the product is hampered with a number of factors.

Poor roads, high transport cost
Marketing Manager of a rice-processing company in Ibadan, Oyo State, Mr Amos Fakunle, said transporting tonnes of rice from the farm to the production factory poses a great challenge as a result of the bad and muddy roads, saying, “This is because rice is planted in swampy areas.”

Fakunle explained to The Guardian at the processing facility that “transporters charge really high fares. For example, if the bags of rice are to be taken from Bachita to Ibadan, it will cost a total of N250,000 while from Ibadan to Osun, it is about N200,000.”

Another challenge of processors, he added, is that most paddies are loaded with dirt, stones and sand, with wastes accounting for about 30 per cent of the raw materials.

“When the rice finally gets to the factory, it takes a lot of efforts to wash and sieve, because when it comes from the farm, it is usually filled with stones, sand, shafts and premature paddies. What would be left are the remnants, which we process and send to the public. If we can achieve a volume over 90 per cent from the paddies, the prices will be beaten down and this is quite the contrary,” he lamented.

Electricity challenge
Giving details of the hurdles of processors, Fakunle explained that “We face so many challenges. One of them is the short supply of electricity, which has encouraged the use of generators. The production of rice takes a lot of processes, after the cleaning comes the soaking for 24 hours. Then it will be ready for parboiling. Then the next day, we wash the soaked rice to get rid of dirt.

“We use hot water to soak the rice to eliminate bacteria and other germs. For the parboiling stage, rice is filled and it is covered for steaming in the boilers. It is parboiled, after which we release it into the drying beds. Regardless of the weather, production goes on and the parboiled rice is dried under our roof using locally fabricated charcoal-powered dryers.”

To satisfy Nigerian buyers, Fakunle added that “we must ensure that only quality rice is produced, make it available and affordable and without stones and dirt so as to satisfy them.”

Also harping on electricity challenge, a rice farmer and processor in collaboration with the Lower Niger River Basin Authority in Lokoja, Kogi State, Mr Hafiz Oladejo, disclosed to The Guardian that he uses 25 litres of diesel every night to process rice.

On average, a litre of diesel costs N220. In 30 days, he spends N165,000 on diesel alone. He also maintains power generators, making production costs to go up.

A rice farmer and processor based in Iwo, Osun State, Mr Ayoade Popoola, said from experience, most rice farmers keep and recycle old low-yielding varieties, mostly mixed with short and long grains.

Affirming the exploitation of farmers by middlemen and processors, Popoola said a tonne (1000kgs) of paddies costs about N100,000 now, while average yield per hectare is about two to three tonnes.

He uses about 20 litres of diesel to process one metric tonne of rice, especially during milling and de-stoning.

Oladejo said another major challenge is the high level of insecurity in the country. Processors and large-scale rice farmers are soft targets of wanton kidnappers and armed robbers.

Very poor road networks also constitute a major obstacle to farmers, he hinted.

Popoola also identified insecurity as a major challenge to farmers, saying that a major farmer at Ile-Ogbo area of the state was kidnapped from his rice farm about four months ago.

The farmer gained regained freedom after paying a ransom, and has stopped rice cultivation, Popoola explained.

Kidnappings and armed robberies are compounded by frequent destruction of farmlands by herdsmen and consequent clashes with farmers.

These crises have led to rice farm destruction and farm-related killings.

High cost of farming inputs
Chairman of Kebbi State Rice Farmers’ Association, Mr Muhammad Sahabi Augie, also listed challenges of farmers as poor road networks, high cost of inputs and loans, pest infestation, and parasitic activities of middlemen.

He explained that roads to most farms in the state have been washed off, making it very difficult to move the input to farms and harvests to the marketplaces.

Augie added that inputs such as fertiliser, insecticides, and herbicides have become more expensive, eroding the profitability of farmers. Good rice seeds are expensive too, he explained to The Guardian.

Activities of processors too constitute a challenge to farmers, he argued. Processors always want to exploit farmers most of the times.

Another challenge he identified is poor access to agricultural mechanisation equipment which prevents intensive production, retarding productivity of small-scale farmers.

He advocated subsidies for farmers, especially those producing rice, while he suggested that a nine-per cent interest rate is un-sustainable for farmers. He advised that five per cent interest rate could help farmers.

Regional Director of Africa Rice Centre, an international rice research centre operating in Africa, Dr Francis Nwilene, said the biggest obstacle to farmers’ productivity in rice production is a restriction imposed on them by the rain-fed system of farming.

Nwilene explained that rice is a water-loving plant, but rain-fed agricultural practices could only afford farmers to cultivate a cycle in a year. This restricts farmers and production expansion, and by extension, hampers food security.

Going forward, he recommended the up-grade and construction of irrigation facilities in every state of the federation. This way, every state could produce enough rice for its residents, store and sell the excess.

He berated most state governors over lip services to agriculture, saying they should honestly commit state resources to food production, commodity value addition, and processing as a means to food security and wealth creation.

Part of the solutions, Nwilene added, is financial support for rice farmers. Systematically financing farming, rather than sporadic and questionable interventions, would sustainably make cultivation, value addition, and food supply chain reliability a reality.

Pa Samuel Akinade, chairman of Oyo State chapter of the Rice Farmers’ Association (RIFAN) identified two major impediments to sustainable rice cultivation, especially in the state.

The first challenge, he explained, is access to land as well as land clearing. Farmland clearing in the rain forest ecologies is costly, he said, and smallholder farmers cultivating rice find it unaffordable to clear land.

Corroborating Nwilene’s submission, Pa Akinade said irrigation facilities are scanty and most farmers willing to try dry season farming are unable to do.

He appealed to the state government to design a comprehensive rice production and value chain approach to make the state self-sufficient in rice production.

Pa Akinade said though the Federal Government had donated a cottage machine for rice processing in Ido local government area of the state, more of such machines are required to ease processing of paddies into finished products.

He added that one of the challenges is the inability to increase yield per hectare as a result of poor or low inputs. Farmers are incapacitated by a number of factors, he said, including funding, access to quality inputs and new technologies through extension services.