In this interview, the Kwara State chairman of Rice Millers Association of Nigeria, Prince Ajisefini Ayodeji Tajudeen, speaks about the challenges of the sector and why rice millers are closing down in the state, among other issues. Excerpts:
Kwara State is regarded as one with great potentials for rice farming in the country. Why has this been difficult to achieve?
Let me first shock you with the news that I, as the chairman of the Rice Millers in Kwara (RIMAN), have closed down my factory of about 15 tons capacity per day. Why? Now, a bag of paddy of 75 or 100 kg comes from the farm at about N18,000. The production waste for the paddy is between 35 to 40 percent. When you consider your cost of production, it lands at about N21,000 per bag and foreign rice cost N18,000 to N20,000 in the open market. How do you want the millers to survive it? They cannot.
So, what is the way out?
We have not changed from our old ways of planting rice in Kwara State. I have been telling the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) that the way their people have been producing rice cannot help the processors in the state. There is need to adopt technological advancements in our planting and agricultural system and train our farmers in the modern way of doing things. Cross River have their own rice farm where they get as much as 8 tons per hectare. When are we going to catch up with the modern trend by doing transfer of seedlings and using the correct breed of paddy seeds instead of inbreed that have gone out of vogue, punishing the farmers? It’s quite unfortunate. Broadcasting of seeds is wrong and our farmers lack the knowledge of land measurement which are all contributing to the high price of produce. We need to go into commercial production and make irrigation and security available. The government can support the capital-intensive part.
Kwara North has good land and the government can clear like 10,000 hectares of land and provide irrigation. No farmer in Kwara can boast of 4 tons of paddy rice per hectare. A farmer will tell you ‘I have 50 bags of paddy rice’, then ask the fellow, from how many hectares? There is no accountability and if these problems linger, we can’t move forward.
Have you tabled this issue before the government as an association?
RIMAN recently went to the Ministry of Agriculture for partnership, that the state government should give us lands to do anchor on our own and engage Kwara youths to become farmers. We will give them specification of what we want them to do and target minimum of 4 tons per hectare. We will then approach CBN or any other commercial bank that will give us the loan because we (the rice millers) as the prime anchor are suffering and farmers do not care whether we make profit. They are also not making anyway. But we were told they lack such facilities.
As an individual, I have tried to clear 2,000 hectares of land at Ilala for rice farming and to engage 2,000 youths in Kwara to plant rice all year round. But I had no support. If a factory that’s supposed to employ about 10 staff close down, multiply that by 200 of such companies, how many unemployed people have we created? So, the best thing to do to achieve success is to partner with private sectors, which will drive it in collaboration with the ministry.
But Kwara is reputed as one of the states with good rice seedlings…
(Cuts in) Kwara State has one of the best rice for planting, we have Faro 42, 44 and 52 and we can plant long grains but we don’t have the technology? Recently, we heard that the new planting season has been flagged off. But for who, who did they supply the paddy they bought to? We discussed with them but they said that they can’t sell to our local farmers, that the project basically is for CBN and they determine who the paddy will go to and if those farmers have excess, our local farmers can then come and buy but at what price? Any rice miller that is buying paddy rice above N13,000 is running at loss and cannot compete with foreign rice whereas ours is of better quality.
The government is not encouraging the purchase of local rice. How many government houses consume locally made rice? Today, you see plastic rice in the market because our people have been given wrong notion about rice. The whites don’t eat white rice but brown rice which is more nutritious. And even at that, the imported white rice is not the type we need because the protein level and other nutrients have dropped because it has been over processed. If Thailand can be getting 12 tons per hectare, why are we not aspiring to get at least 5 tons per hectare in Nigeria and our government will tell you they’re encouraging farmers. Who are the farmers they claim they’re encouraging? We need to identify the commercial farmers from the peasant farmers. Not that I am discouraging peasants farmers, but they need to be migrated to commercial level. Our farmers need to go for more technical training.
But has the CBN’s anchor borrowers programme not helped in this regard?
CBN has a very good programme but the implementation is where the problem lies. CBN will prefer to deal with the associations who will in turn promote registration at the local level. But the people managing the farms don’t have the technical know-how. Agribusiness is not just about how to plant and weed. Some of the inputs released by CBN are at times sold in the market. CBN cannot give private anchor who are into real production but direct us to our commercial banks to collect the money on our behalf. The commercial banks will now ask us for what we cannot provide like collateral of 120 percent of the loan or asking for 50 percent cash backing. Why should I go to the bank if I have these in the first place? So, implementation has been the problem.