Rice growing is widespread in many parts of Kebbi State, raising hopes that Nigeria is on track to achieving zero importation of the food staple, Olawale Ajimotokan reports

Kebbi State has become a model in Nigeria’s strides to boost local rice production. Its irrigated plains are patterned with paddy rice common in 15 out of the 21 local government areas.

In the North-western state, over 200,000 farmers cultivate rice thrice yearly. The peak of the activity is the dry season when the product is grown twice in the year.

Rice is produced in Augie, Argungu, Birnin Kebbi, Kalgo, Bunza, Suru, Dendi, Koko/Bese, Jega, Ngaski, Bagudo, Tsanga, Yauri, Wara and Myamama local government areas.

Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu attributed Nigeria’s hyped exit from recession to the N54 billion loans provided to the rice farmers nation-wide under the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP).

Private millers are also cashing in on the frenzy. As off-takers, they are setting up high capacity rice mills, where the yields are processed and distributed into major cities across the country.

The major mills include Dandi Rice Mills in Kamba, Labana in Birnin Kebbi and Wacot in Argungu. There are also Olam and Umza, while corporate billionaire, Aliko Dangote is also constructing a mill in Jigawa, scheduled to open this year.

The General Manager Labana Rice, Abdullahi Idis Zuru, said the company, which produces the famous Lake Rice, a supply arrangement between Kebbi and Lagos States has two plants, with the installed capacity to process 20 tonnes of rice per hour.

Labana requires about 100,050 metric tonnes of paddy per year to meet its installed annual capacity.

The mill has about 1,050 staff that run on three different shifts.

Zuru said under the ABP, 3,500 farmers were given N750 million. He added that last season, Labana allocated N450 million to 2,050 farmers that are supplying it with rice.

“The introduction of the ABP has assisted in getting raw materials for the factory. When it was first launched, we recorded more than 300 per cent increase in the number of farmers that have gone to the farm and in the quantity of paddy rice that was supplied. As a result, most of the rice millers in the country have moved to Kebbi State, opening offices and establishing ware houses, from where they buy from farmers and stockpile. Kebbi has become the centre of paddy rice supply to all rice millers in Nigeria. And it is not just rice, but high quality paddy rice, the one you can’t get in any part of the country,” Zuru said.

The rice mill in Kamba is owned by an indigenous entrepreneur. It has two production lines. The installed capacity of the mill is 370 metric tonnes per day.

“The benefits will be enormous because one of the advantages of siting the company here is proximity to the source of raw materials, which reduces cost of production. The rice produced here is highly competitive to rice produced elsewhere in the country,” said the District Head of Kamba, Mahmoud Fana.

The demand for unprocessed rice has also led to the emergence of weekly rice markets where agents of the mills scramble for every available grain on offer.

Many warehouses at the Kamba Rice Market are rented by the companies while the humming of trucks, waiting to distribute the commodity to other end users is a common activity.

The CBN introduced the ABP in 2015 to support rice farmers in many states using Kebbi as the pilot state.

Kebbi State Commissioner for Agriculture, Alhaji Mohammed Garba Dandiga, declared at a FADAMA rice plantation in Suru that the state has attained self-sufficiency in rice production and is prepared to meet the country’s 50 per cent rice demand.

Dandiga made the declaration, when Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, led reporters to Kebbi State to witness its thriving rice industry.

He projected that an aggregate 2.5 million metric tonnes of rice will be produced for the 2018 dry and wet seasons.

To make that possible, the Kebbi State Government recently procured 100 tractors, 300 power tillers, 300 threshers and 200 reapers to support paddy rice growing.

According to Dandiga, the Suru cluster farms, covering 50kms by 20kms, sold 1.5 million bags of rice about (115,384mt) last year.

“Last year, we produced over one million metric tonnes and made a turnover of N40 billion from rice. From the look of things, we expect a bumper harvest this year. Normally, if the yield increases, the tonnage also increases. We want to produce 2.5 million metric tonnes. Our rice production is in fulfilment of our mantra that ‘whenever you see rice, it must be from Kebbi’,” Dandiga said.

He said the state government had assisted farmers to increase output by subsidising the prices of fertilisers which are supplied to farmers at N5,200 as against the market cost of N7,000-N8,000.

The Suru FADAMA Rice Farm is the biggest rice market in the state, closely trailed by Oroba (Dendi), Samanegi, Jega, Dogoraha, Dogosuho and Argungu.

At Jega where there are 15,000 farmers, a local farmer, Alhaji Ibrahim, was lauded for his outstanding feat in using superior farming techniques to improve yields from the national average of 2.5 metric tonnes to 10-11 metric tonnes per hectare.

Bagudu, who is the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Rice and Wheat Production in Nigeria, noted that the Kebbi rice approach has been replicated in other states as the country is inching towards self-sufficiency in rice production.

He said though it is possible for rice to be delivered at N10,000-N11,000 for a bag of 50kg rice there is a need for deliberate investments in the sector as the country is competing with other nations which are also investing.

 “If you consider the sacrifices made by countries that are dependent on oil- Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Russia, they have not achieved the kind of low level growth that Nigeria achieved largely through agriculture,” Bagudu said.

He also called for greater lending to agriculture.

According to him, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) indicated that in the first two months of this year, fuel subsidy alone was about N180 billion, while the lending to agriculture under two and half years to farmers across 31 states was only N54 billion.

“We need massive investments in agriculture. Countries that have achieved food sufficiency spent decades supporting agriculture in form of subsidies and providing different producer support and that is what we should do,” Bagudu said.

In Kebbi, the farmers grapple with a complexity of problems that are impacting on their ability to maximise their production potential.

They irrigate the farms and the water is derived through pressure pump powered by generators. High cost of fuel is a major problem. The farmers buy at N300 and above the official price of N150 because of activities of cross border smugglers.

Water is scarce to find during the dry farming season as the farmers pay N120,000 per annum for water, compared to farmers in Kano State, who are charged N20,000 only.

“Most of our farmers use irrigation. In some states it is possible to use gravity where you don’t buy fuel, you just use the water pump in order to produce rice. Because of this our farmers are always buying petrol not at N145 assumed in the model or at most N150. The farmers, in some places, buy fuel for as much as N300. Despite the best effort of the federal government the challenges still remain. Kebbi is contiguous to Benin and Niger Republic and as presented by the NNPC, the prices of petroleum products in both countries are over N320, which is an incentive for people to smuggle petrol,” Bagudu lamented.

He appealed to the federal government to aid Kebbi with the provision of dams and channelisation as the state lacks the means to embark on those projects.

In addition, farmers like Ibrahim Salihu and Sumaila Mohammed in Kamba and Oroba said inputs like fertilisers are not readily available.

Salihu is one of the 12 farmers that work on a cluster paddy farm in the dry season. Last year, he managed to harvest only five bags of rice but only with the low yields as he did not get government support.

“I was not opportune to get fertilisers and all sort of inputs distributed by government. It is only the farmers that obtain the loan that will tell you if they are given the second phase or not,” he said.

Sumaila Mohammed Kamba, who is the Coordinator on Agricultural Project to Dendi Local Government, fingered high cost of fertilisers and water as a limitation as they buy diesel, dig the well and source for fuel to irrigate their farms.