Boosting Food Production in Niger State: Rice Production, Other Options, By Abdullberqy Ebbo
Stimulating agricultural sector in Niger State through large scale rice farming is a key component, even if just a strand, of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello’s holistic Strategic Plan Framework for food production and better living for the people of Niger state. This is understandably so. Rice has been a staple meal in most homes and longstanding favourite of Nigerians, young and old. Regrettably and perhaps even strangely, the stuff has lately transformed into a scarce commodity, selling for as high as N24,000 per 50kg bag in most Nigerian markets!
Against the backdrop of a trend of unenthusiastic policy formulation/implementation, specifically as it affects cultivation/processing of rice by past governments both at the state and federal levels, the precarious and volatile nature of the international market, regarding the relations of America’s dollar against the naira, assisted (worsened) by other sharp conducts of stock market dealers, both locally and internationally, this common staple has lately taken flight from the meal tables of most homes. It is not a story the common man will tell with joy.
The picture, often linked to global economic recession which has equally affected other areas of human life in Nigeria as much as elsewhere, is however not irreversible and is actually being reversed. The ‘reverse’ or change process, which is slow but strategic, has seen President Muhammadu Buhari applying the Agricultural Development Agenda (ADA). ADA centers attention to latest techniques of rice production and matchless empowerment of farmers in select states in the country. Underscoring his commitment to supporting the President on the ADA initiative, Governor Sani Bello’s commissioning on the 8th December 2016 of the Bida Rice Processing and Milling Complex, constructed by Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) at Bida, Niger state.
The rice mill project, which takes after and extends the larger plan of the Governor’s Restoration Agenda, specifically in the area of agriculture/food production, youth employment and women empowerment, is a tripartite cooperation among Niger State Government, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Republic of Korea. At completion the project is hoped to generate well over TEN THOUSAND DIRECT AND INDIRECT JOBS.
The Second Rice Project, expected to be Commissioned by the Governor few months to come, is the 75,000-Hectare SWASHI RICE PROJECT, which is equally a partnership between the Government of Niger state and some Indian Investors, the PJS Farms LTD. The project being handled by Pearl Universal Impex Limited includes the development of a Mechanised Rice Farm and a Rice Processing Mill in Borgu Emirate, which further promises to create additional over SEVEN THOUSAND JOBS (3000 direct and 4000 indirect).
Governor Sani Bello’s target of One Million Metric Tonnes of rice production by the state annually seems eminently achievable, against the backdrop of these ongoing projects. A recent ranking of the World Bank, placing Niger state 1st in the group of six viable rice producing states in the country, is a further affirmation of the enormous food production potentials of the state.
But all efforts are not about rice!
Soon after inauguration on 29th May, 2015 and with an awareness of a state with modest presence of natural endowments, especially favouring agriculture, the governor began situating Niger state as Nigeria’s formidable food hub. Currently, sustainable programmes of his administration not only in rice production but equally in poultry, aqua-culture and other areas of agric business can be found in parts of the state.
One of such is the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)-initiated Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) which, within the last one year, benefitted a minimum of 14,000 farmers, with about N2 billion already disbursed from the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund (MSMEDF) in the state.
Disclosing this during the inspection of rice farms in Doko in Lavun Local Government Area of Niger State, CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, said a total of one million tonnes of rice was expected from the cluster of rice farms across the State, courtesy of the CBN-initiated Anchor Borrowers’ Programme.
Earlier and soon after his inauguration, Governor Abubakar had also directed the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to distribute 58mt (metric tons) stock of grains to the public at subsidised rates, a move meant to support feeding needs of households, as it came just before the 2015 Ramadan Fast period. The state government had also approved the purchase and distribution of 20,000 metric tons of assorted fertilizers to 164,000 farmers across the 274 wards of the state.
Further, another batch of six hundred small-scale farmers in each of the 274 wards have enjoyed 50% subsidy off every purchase of 2 bags of NPK or Urea fertilizer at 2,850 naira per 50kg, a facility which translated to One Billion, One Hundred and Forty Naira(N1,140,000,000.00)financial burden upon the state government.
The Governor had not long ago also constituted a committee to prepare grounds for successful commencement of the privately owned N36billion Sunti Sugar Golden Mill Company located at Sunti Village in Mokwa Local Government Area of the State. The company, a subsidiary of Sunti Farms Limited, is a division of Flour Mills of Nigeria, Plc.
Niger state’s economy: What was on ground.
Created on February 3, 1976 from now defunct North-Western State during the regime of General Murtala Mohammed, Niger State, occupying 76, 469.903 Square Kilometers (10 per cent of Nigeria’s entire land area!) and with 25 Local Government Areas (LGAs), has a population of 3,950,249 by 2006 Population and Housing Census, 85 per cent of which engages in farming. The state experiences distinct dry and wet seasons with significant rainfall periods in northern and southern parts and temperatures varying tolerably to accommodate sustenance of human, animal (poultry), aquatic and plant lives.
Governor Sani Bello met a Niger state the economy of which, given these facts and many others, promised to sustain its citizens’ livelihood and growth desires through agriculture, if right policies were not just enacted but were conscientiously followed through.
Showing his preparedness for the development of the state and that governance in Niger state is no longer ‘business as usual’, Governor Abubakar has stated repeatedly his preoccupation as governor is not to teach and trade in politics, but use the governorship position to elevate the substance of the people, socially and economically