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Stakeholders in the rice value chain of some producing states are saying they are unable to find enough buyers for their rice; either milled or paddy, a development which may seem strange to those who find more ‘foreign rice’ in markets around them.
From Abakaliki, in Ebonyi to Patigi in Kwara, and even Kebbi state, rice farmers say they have more paddy than buyers who will mill it, and even those who have milled the rice, they say bulk traders/consumers are not forthcoming, as they would like. Yet, the price of rice is gradually declining in many of these rice-producing communities, even though the same is hardly experienced in cities like Lagos and Port Harcourt.
“As I speak, we have so much rice in the stores yet unsold,” said Moses Nomeh, commissioner for agriculture and natural resources, Ebonyi State, in a recent interview.
Three years ago, a bushel of rice (about 22 kg) was sold around N9,000 in Ebonyi, but this month during a visit to the state, it was sold at an average of N5,000.
According to Nomeh, there is a lot of improvement in rice production. “However, the off taker arrangement is where there is still some problems. We still need more off takers for our rice,” he said. Traders at the milling cluster reiterated this view, like wise rice farmers.
Joseph Ununu, who was chairman, Abakaliki Rice Mill Owners Industrial Association when this reporter last visited the state in 2016, had complained of low patronage at the cluster, a situation still in existence three years later.
In Kwara state, some farmers also say they are struggling to find market for their paddy rice.
“Even though imported rice is no longer available, still, there isn’t market for our (local) rice as we want it. Till today, people want to sell their (paddy) rice, but no market at Lade,” said Abubakar Haruna, the village head of Duku-Lade, who also stressed, “Be it private or government owned if there is a rice mill in Lade, it will help us a lot.”
Siddik Abdulahi, chairman, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kwara state chapter, also emphasised that if a rice mill can be sited in any of the rice producing communities, farmers will benefit a lot because there will be an improvement in price. “With a rice mill here in Lafiagi, we believe there will be increase in money going to farmers, and with that, they will increase their production. The price paddy is bought sometimes discourages farmers,” he said
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Nigeria’s rice production reached 7 million tonnes (4.2 million tonnes, milled basis) in 2017, up 12 per cent from 6.3 million tonnes (3.8 million tonnes, milled basis) in 2015. The growth according to FAO, was encouraged by high local prices and inputs assistance programmes under the country’s self-sufficiency drive. Curiously, the 4.2 million tonnes milled rice in 2017, is 2.1 million tonnes below Nigeria’s 6.3 million tonne annual demand, noted in the Agriculture Promotion Policy document of 2016. By 2017, demand surely would have even increased, indicating local rice production might still be far from being adequate, even though 2018 data is not yet available.
Data is a challenge and one has to decide if it is a risk worth taking to commit towards investing in the rice business in any of these locations where there appears to be an ‘abundance of rice’.
In addition, going by observations this reporter made in a 2016 trip to Abakaliki, some caution is recommended in transacting with rice producers at the Abakaliki rice mill cluster as some of the market practices leave much to be desired.
It was observed that three main grades of rice are milled and bagged in the Abakaliki rice mill cluster; R8, 306, and Mass. R8 is the least in the grade, with short, lean grains, followed by 306 which is longer, while Mass is the highest grade, having long, thick grains. At the market, rice is heaped on the floor from where it is measured for interested buyers, but it was revealed that for the higher grades of rice, some sellers have the lower grades of rice hidden underneath the heaps.
In essence, lower grades get mixed up with the preferred higher grades of rice. Also, as people not familiar with the grades of rice may be unable to tell the difference, other sharp practices include out rightly bagging lower quality grades of rice and selling them at the price of the highest grade.