The gains and demerits of border closure by the Federal Government have been examined by stakeholders in virtually all the sectors. This examination ranges from upward and downward development of agricultural, transportation, finance sectors, among others. The result of this measure being taken by the President Buhari-led government seems to be positive as many rice mills worth billions of naira have begun to spring up.
The contribution of staple foods, particularly rice, to human development, as well as the economy of a country, cannot be overemphasised. However, discouraging its importation from other countries and boosting its production in Nigeria was a necessity for the present government; and this, in the last few years, has been given top priority.
The Federal Government had, in August 2019, announced the closure of the country’s borders that connect Benin and Niger Republics, sequel to massive smuggling activities, particularly rice. The exercise, being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser and code-named, Ex-Swift Response, is being jointly conducted by the Nigeria Customs Service, Immigration, Police and military personnel.
President Muhammadu Buhari had, in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Femi Adesina, said the activities of the smugglers threatened the self-sufficiency already attained due to his administration’s agricultural policies.
According to him, “Now that our people in the rural areas are going back to their farms and the country has saved huge sums of money, which would otherwise have been expended on importing rice using our scarce foreign reserves. We cannot allow smuggling of the product at such alarming proportions to continue.”
However, checks by our reporter showed that significant progress had been recorded as rice production in Nigeria jumped to 3.7 million tonnes in 2017. Reports also show that rice, as one of the most consumed staple foods in Nigeria and in the past decade, consumption has risen by 4.7 per cent, almost four times the global consumption growth, and reached 6.4 million tonnes in 2017 – this accounts for 20 per cent of Africa’s consumption.
As of 2011, it was revealed that rice accounted for 10 per cent of household food spending, and 6.6 per cent of total household spending. Meanwhile, report shows that there is an enormous potential to increase rice productivity if given the necessary attention.
Unfortunately, Nigeria’s mechanisation has remained low at 0.3 hp/ha. Recent findings by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) revealed that the number of agricultural tractors is estimated around 22,000, relative to 1 million and 2.5 million in China and India respectively. Low income, limited access to affordable financing and the lack of technical skills have limited the adoption of mechanisation across the rice value chain in the country.
The report also estimated that increasing the mechanisation rate in Nigeria from 0.3hp/ha to 0.8hp/ha in the next five years can double rice production to 7.2 million tonnes. To achieve this, Nigeria will need to at least triple its current stock of machinery over the same period.
Yield has remained at 2 tonnes per hectare, and as population increases, with present drift of rural-urban migration, it is expedient to ensure food security by rejuvenating key staple foods that become unavoidable for majority of households.
It should be noted that food security cannot be achieved by a system that depends largely on crude implements.
Discouraging this type of system that depends on human muscle power and other manual methods is a measure every Nigerian must embrace if the country is ready to attain food sufficiency. However, as part of efforts to bridge this gap of mechanisation in rice production in the country, and with a view to complementing the efforts of the Federal Government, the chairman of Max Air, Alhaji Dahiru Mangal, is building a rice mill, worth over N20billion in Kastina, which will, no doubt revolutionalise rice production in the country.
Though the Federal Government has not hidden its desire to boost local production of rice considering its investment in the sector, the alarming rate at which rice is being smuggled into the country through land borders that connect Benin and Niger Republics, has been frustrating the effort of the government.
The Darma Rice Mill project, embarked upon by Alhaji Mangal, is divided into two phases and would be completed by the first quarter of 2020. It is aimed at assisting the country to meet the domestic demand for high quality parboiled rice and attain self-sufficiency in rice production.
Speaking with selected journalists during a visit to the factory, the project manager, Mr Mukhtar Kafinsoli, noted that with a production capacity of 36 tonnes per hour in two production lines, the rice mill would be the largest in Africa. According to him, the second line of the mill comprises of silos and raw materials store. He said the plan was to have four capacities, but they are starting with two at the moment.
“We intended to have four capacities, starting with two. We will start the second batch immediately after completing the ongoing project. The project will be completed by March 2020,” Kafinsoli said.
Similarly, the managing director of the rice mill, Dr Dahiru Mangal, said that over 2,000 direct staff would be employed, along with over 200 expatriates who are going to train indigenous members of staff.
He revealed that the rice mill would have a conventional storage facility of 12,000 metric tonnes of rice worth N20 billion. Mangal added that a fertiliser plant would equally be built to help increase rice yield.
He said, “The mill will be designed and built by Indians due to their expertise in the business. We will give maximum support for the project to be achieved. A storey building will be built for members of staff, which will serve as their quarters. It will have the capacity to accommodate 130 members of staff. Also, a staff quarters that will accommodate over 200 expatriates, with canteens, will be built.”