Some farmers in the country have faulted the Federal Government’s policy on assistance to enhance rice production, saying it is not getting to the grass roots. The farmers in Kebbi, Ogun, Osun and Ebonyi states said with the manner the programme was being implemented, Nigeria might not achieve self-sufficiency in rice in 2020 as it planned. They said lack of government’s supports in form of loans, irrigation and equipment that could boost mechanised farming, was threatening rice production. In Ebonyi State, both the small and large-scale farmers lamented their ordeals, saying the way farmers in the southern part of the country were being treated was different from their counterparts in the North.
Politicians hijacking loans meant for rice farmers – Dickson
A large-scale farmer, Mr Eche Dickson, from Oso Edda Community in the Afikpo South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, said imported rice would continue to flood the Nigerian market because government lacked the political will to practise what it preached. He stated, “The reason why we still have more imported rice in the Nigerian market is because governments at all levels do not practise what they are saying. Government said they don’t want to see foreign rice in the market, but the same people don’t want to give us incentives to produce rice locally. You don’t get equipment, you don’t get loans and you don’t seeds. “The state government said they were going to give us loans. We applied and started waiting. We waited and waited until September when many of us started harvesting and the loans didn’t come. We waited for the seeds they promised, they didn’t come in time, either.
“I’m the Apex Value Chain Chairman in Afikpo South LGA and whatever I tell you here is the fact. We had our own seeds but we thought government was going to give us more improved seeds. We ended up receiving the worst seeds in our life from the government. “The loans being touted by the government, we have not seen. They ‘played’ (us) farmers. I personally didn’t receive any loan and some farmers, who said they got loan said it was just N20, 000. What then would you do with that amount of money as a farmer? “Government could have released the money but middlemen who are mostly politicians hijacked it. They share it among their brothers and sisters. This is Nigeria. Politicians in government hijack these loans and embezzle them while the real farmers suffer.”
Dickson urged government to assist farmers with equipment for mechanised farming. “We have been doing manual farming and it hasn’t taken us anywhere,” he added. Another large-scale rice farmer, Usulor Emmanuel, a native of Onueke village in the Ezza South South Local Government Area of the state, corroborated Dickson. He said, “The government tries to make loans available to farmers, although we do not receive the loans eventually. The loans are usually blocked and taken by those who are not real farmers, the politicians.
“The loans the state government said they would give us ended up in the hands of politicians, who eventually shared them among their cronies. Manual farming can’t take us anywhere at this time when farmers in other climes have embraced mechanised farming and the government won’t do anything to assist us with tractors, funding and others.” In Kebbi State, a small-scale farmer, Alhaji Musa Argungu, said rice farming was no longer lucrative. A large-scale farmer in the state, Alhaji Shuaibu Mungadi, who claimed that he produced between 4,000 and 7,000 bags of rice yearly, blamed both the states and federal governments for their failure to assist rice farmers financially and their refusal to establish grains marketing boards to buy surplus rice.
He maintained that since he started rice farming more than 10 years ago, he had not benefited anything from both Kebbi and the federal governments. According to him, farmers in Kebbi are left at the mercy of rice processing firms which usually purchase rice from them at a ridiculous price but later process and sell to the public at an exorbitant price. He, therefore, called on the state and the federal governments to come to the aid of farmers by giving them soft loans and establishing the grains boards. “I am appealing to the Kebbi State Government as well as the Federal Government to come to our aid and give us soft loans. They should also establish the grains boards so that they could purchase the rice we produce and should also do something to address the issue of rice importation,” Mungadi stated.
‘Farmers that are not connected don’t benefit’
Also, a large-scale rice farmer in Gombe State, Alhaji Shuaibu Abdurahman, in an interview with The PUNCH, said imported rice was more than the locally, produced one in the state. He also called on government to assist rice farmers with funds. “We need government to ensure fertiliser gets to every farmer. It is one thing to provide it, it is another thing to ensure every farmer gets it. If you are not well connected, you can’t benefit.”
Ekiti rice farmers lament land, loan scarcity, birds menace
In Ekiti State, large-scale rice farmers said the land ownership system in the South-West geopolitical zone was a major problem confronting production of the cereal crop in the state. A farmer, Mr Kolawole Rotimi, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “We want the land in Ekiti State opened up by the state government. The major factor in Ekiti State is land which is a fallout of the land ownership system in the South-West. We need our farms to be in clusters of 500 hectares; it is then that it will be easy for the farms to be mechanised.” Rotimi, who has about five hectares of rice farm at Ido and Ikoro Ekiti, listed lack of access to loans, “non-tractorable” roads to farmlands and neglect of dams among factors affecting rice farming in the state.
He said, “In Ekiti, the quantity of the local brand that we cultivate, Nerica 7 (popularly known as Igbemo Rice), is not enough. Because it is not a unique product, it is not much in circulation because it is more expensive than the imported rice. The implication is that what we produce is not enough for consumption in Ekiti.” Small-scale farmers in the state lamented the menace of birds, which they claimed, destroyed their farms during harvest. The farmers said there would not be solution in sight until the government provided them with equipment for mechanised farming.
A farmer, Toyin Ajileye, whose rice farm is on over three acres of land at Orun Ekiti in the Irepodun/Ifelodun Local Government Area, said, “If you are not careful and leave the birds to operate, they can destroy a five-acre rice farm in five hours. “In advanced countries, they net rice farms, but that is impossible here because there are trees everywhere and our farms are not motorable for caterpillars to bulldoze and in view of the small sizes of the scattered farms,” he added.
Another farmer, who produces Igbemo Rice on over four acres of land at Orun, Folorunso Asaolu, corroborated him, saying, “We are on the farms chasing birds from 6am to 6pm daily. It is possible to lose half of your expected harvest to birds.” Ajileye and Asaolu called on all the tiers of government to address the problem of lack of motorable roads to their farms so that they could easily transport their produce to mills in the town. They also canvassed financial support, including access to soft loans to expand their farms and other necessary facilities that would bring down the cost of production per acre.
No tiller in the whole of South-West
Explaining his problems, a small- scale rice farmer in Erin Oke, Osun State, Alhaji Ismaila Ayodele, lamented that about 30 per cent of the rice he produced was lost to manual process of harvesting and distilling. He said two other major hindrances to local rice production apart from smuggling were non-availability of a land-clearing machine called power tiller and harvester. Ayodele said clearing land before planting rice manually remained the most difficult aspect of rice farming because the crop was grown in swampy areas. He lamented that in the whole of the South-West, a power tiller was not available despite the large number of people involved in rice production.
Ayodele said, “A power tiller moves in swampy area to clear land. If the clearing is done manually, it is the most difficult aspect of rice production. In the whole of the South-West, there is no single power tiller. Government provides tractor that people hire for cultivation. A power tiller is almost the same price as a tractor, but no government has provided that for rice farmers. “Also, if you harvest manually, you remove the husk manually and sieve also manually, you would have lost about 30 to 40 per cent of grains. But if you harvest with harvester and you use the machine to remove the husk and sieve, you won’t lose grain. Sadly, harvester is also not available.”
No destoner machine
On his part, a rice miller in Erin Oke, Mr Odunayo Niyi, who produces over 1,000 bags of 100kg of rice annually, said, “The major issue we have is lack of some basic inputs needed to produce clean rice. I told some officials of the state government that visited me last year that if we could be assisted to get the destoner machines, farmers here can successfully produce rice that will feed Osun and some neighbouring states.” He added, “Many times, whenever government wants to provide financial assistance to rice farmers, those that do not have rice farms are the beneficiaries. “The real rice farmers, despite the fact that they know us and where we work, we won’t be considered. All these things are affecting our business.” In Ogun State, a small-scale rice farmer, Afolabi Kufo, said as of the time of speaking with one of our correspondents, he had yet to get any assistance from the government. Kufo said, “Well, the government has yet to render any assistance to us for now. We are in a cooperative setting, so it is through the cooperative we finance our project.
“Another constraint is that when you produce and you are unable to sell, you will not be encouraged to go back and that is why the government needs to do the needful to come to the aid of rice farmers. “Although there are some government programmes, such as the Anchor Borrower’s scheme and others, they are not getting down to the grass roots and the programmes are not taking cognizance of the time factor in farming. For instance, anchor borrower comes by November when we have no rain to produce.” A large-scale rice farmer, Popoola Oluwagbenga, who is the Chairman of Agbedola Agro-allied Farmers’ Business Association in Eguwa, Yewa-North Local Government Area of Ogun State, in an interview with The PUNCH, criticised the government for not supporting rice farmers. He stated, “The government will tell you to come and do this thing, it is the same government that will send their people to come and undermine it.”
No irrigation in the South, says association chair
Also, the President of FADAMA (Rice Producers Association), Mr Kolawole Omikunle, lamented the dearth of irrigation in the South. He stated, “Irrigation system does not cover every part of Nigeria. Therefore, we have only one rice-farming season, instead of about three. If we have proper irrigation system, we can produce thrice in a year and with that we will have enough rice in the country. But as of now in the South, there is no one irrigation system to produce rice.” He lamented the failure of the government to finance rice farming. He said the government must know that rice business was capital intensive. But when contacted, the National President, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Aminu Goronyo, said it would be unfair to say that the Federal Government had not done considerably well in assisting rice farmers. “It would not be nice to say the government has not done considerably well in supporting local rice producers and we must not forget that the cost of production differs across the country. However, a lot of support has been given to small-scale rice farmers who constitute about 80 per cent of rice farmers in Nigeria,” Goronyo stated.
Also, senior officials of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development told one of our correspondents in Abuja that the government had done a lot to boost rice production in the country. They also referred to the position of the immediate past Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, on the huge amount of rice produced in Nigeria. “It is a well known fact that Nigeria currently produces a greater percentage of the rice that is consumed across the country today and our immediate past minister always talks about this whenever there is an opportunity to do so,” a director at the FMARD, who pleaded not to be named as he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said.