Drive through the city of Kano from Kura, home to the Kadawa Irrigation Valley, one sees smoke billowing from many rice mills that have in the last four years transformed the city into a major rice processing hub in the country.
Old mills have increased capacity and expanded operations with state-of-the-art equipment and new ones have started production, and those under construction are at the various stages of completion.
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Zaria-Kano and Kano-Gezawa roads are hosts to many of the rice milling companies, while the Dawanau International Market along Kano-Katsina road is one of the major selling points for small-scale millers. This is in addition to pockets of markets across the city.
Our reporter who went round the city observed that many of the mills are expanding their capacities. UMZA RICE along Zaria-Kaduna Road for example has more than doubled its capacity from 12 tons per hour to 30 tons per hour.
The processor of UMZA, Alhaji Abubakar Maifata, has built a new plant a few metres away from the old plant and has also expanded the market of the UMZA brand from the North to states in the South.
A key actor, Popular Farms and Mills, in Chalawa Industrial Estate prides itself as leading the Nigerian rice revolution with brands from its upgraded and fully automated mill.
According to the company, it has capacity to mill about 430,000 metric tonnes (MT) of paddy annually.
Millers like Tiamin Rice, established in 2016, is also another major player in rice milling in Kano. The company, which is located along Kaduna Road produces about 320 metric tons of rice with about 223 workers.
Others increasing rice production in the city are the 500-ton capacity Amarava Rice Mill, which President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned in 2017; Bela Rice; Whitefield Agro Processing Mill; Zubawa Rice Mill; Mafa Rice, among others. They are pushing the supply curve upwards.
Besides these large and medium-scale mills, there are thousands of small-scale mills in Dawakin Kudu and Kura areas changing the rice equation and pushing the supply curve in the upward trajectory.
Alhaji Bashir Ismail Usman is the Secretary of the Dawakin Kudu Small-Scale Rice Millers Association. He told Daily Trust that the rice business was progressing in so many ways.
Alhaji Bashir said, “Initially, we just used to farm the rice and sell it out immediately, but that has changed. We currently mill high quality rice as you can see,” adding that they deployed better machines like sorter and destoner which separateed broken and black rice from clean long grains.
He further said, “It’s hard in some instances to differentiate what we mill here from the so-called foreign rice.”
According to him, before the coming of President Buhari, the number of millers with good machines in the market were less than 100, but that presently it has gone up to about 1,000; even though he said the machines were pretty much expensive.
He said the market for their products was getting bigger, noting that “initially we were only patronised by customers within Kano and environs, but now, our rice is consumed all over the country because we see a lot of customers who come from the South to buy rice here every day.”
Daily Trust caught up with some of the customers, Kelechi Onyinye and Mrs Chinyere Okafor, from the South East, who have been in the business for about five years. They said the quality of the rice from Kano had improved tremendously and was cheaper than what they got in other states.
Mrs Okafor said, “Sometimes, people don’t believe it is local rice. You hardly see stones in it, and the physical quality has improved too.”
For the farmers, this is their best moment. Production of paddy cannot meet the demand of many operational mills and the farm price of rice is good.
“Rice farmers don’t have a problem here at all. If you want buyers even at the farm gate they will come. We have many processing mills; the market is always there, so the problem of whether your crop will not be bought at a good price as far as rice is concerned is not even there,” Malam Saidu Auwal told Daily Trust in Kura.
However, what remains a problem for the farmers is the cost of inputs, especially fertiliser and agrochemicals, which they said had been unstable this season.
“I bought fertiliser at N15,000, and one litre of herbicide at N4,000 this season. The prices are always going up. Despite that, it is better with rice than other crops. Buyers look for you, you don’t look for them,” another farmer, Abdullahi Yakubu, said.
Alhaji Sanusi Mohammed, an agribusiness specialist with many years’ experience in international donor-funded agribusiness projects, said the productivity of local rice had witnessed tremendous transformation.
He said the import ban and profitability of rice production against other crops in recent times, driven by huge demand across the country, spurred the current growth in Kano.
Alhaji Sanusi who researched into the growing rice industry in Kano, told Daily Trust that, “Around 2014/2015, there were about only four integrated rice mills, but today we have more than 15 big rice mills; we have more than 30 intermediate rice mills, while the smaller ones are in thousands. In each local government area, you will see one or two rice hubs.”
Other people who spoke with Daily Trust in the city were optimistic that the state’s rice economy is going to get bigger.
“In the near future, Kano will be synonymous with rice in Africa. Before we used to hear Ebonyi Rice, but let me tell you, today most people come to buy rice from Kano because it is not only cheaper, you have different choices in terms of quality. Our only challenge is insecurity. But the future lies here,” Alhaji Sani Iliyasu, a rice dealer, said.