Before now, rice, which is Nigeria’s major staple food used to be easily available and affordable. The price of the commodity was not on the high side as the poor could afford it. That was then. Now, the price of the commodity is literally out of the reach of the poor.
In Edo State, the price is skyrocketing, with a bag of local rice selling for between N19, 000 and N25, 000 while imported foreign rice goes for between N28,000 and N30,000 per 50kg. Before now, rice was grown on subsistence basis in the state and not much is made available for the market.
Last year, some rice farmers assisted by the Edo State government through the FADAMA 111 Additional Financing Project were in tears. Their rice fields, measuring over 300 hectares in Iguoriakhi, Agenebode and Warrake, were washed away by flood just as they were about to harvest. The farmers were expecting five tons per hectare. Some eventually got two tons per hectare due to the damage caused by the flood.
What compounded the farmers’ problems was that their businesses were not covered by insurance. That would have given them 70 per cent of the expected revenue. Moreover, the farmers did not plant early due to the delay in release of funds from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
To avoid a recurrence of the experience, the Edo State government, in its effort to ensure success of its agricultural programme, secured a N5billion loan from the CBN under the Commercial Agric Credit Scheme. Checks have shown that N2.2 billion of the loan was to be used for crop production, N2.3 billion for land development and about N100 million for irrigation.
The target was to harvest 17,000 tons of rice and 11,000 tons of maize by cultivating 6,600 hectares of land at the end of the planting season this year.
To ensure that the benefiting farmers understood the import of the loan, Special Adviser to Governor Obaseki on Agriculture, Food Security and Forestry, Prince Joe Okojie, embarked on a sensitisation tour of 200 farmers at Iguoriakhi, Iguomon, Illushi, Warrake, Agenebode Usugbenu, Sobe and Ekpoma.
Prince Okojie explained the Economics of Production (EOP) to the farmers and what they stand to benefit if they take proper care of the farms.
“We hope to produce millionaire farmers this year. We do not anticipate a drop in the price of rice. We are hoping that we are able to produce about 17,000 metric tons cultivating about 4,400 hectares of rice farm.
“We are not cultivating cassava now but maize. We are looking forward to cultivating about 2,200 hectares and we are hoping that we will be able to harvest approximately 11,000 metric tons.
“We have engaged a lot of agronomists. We have employed the services of Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) that is going to be our technical partner and they are going to bring on board a lot of agronomists that will help us.
“We are trying to see how we can deploy best practices for the cultivation of the crops this season and hope that we get better yield than the one that we got two years ago,” Okojie said.
Special Adviser to Governor Obaseki on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, told The Nation that over 10,600 hectares of land were cultivated in different parts of the state in which not less than 2,000 farmers benefitted from the scheme.
Crusoe said the state provided inputs and technical support for the farming season to boost food sufficiency.
He explained that the scheme was a multi-faceted agricultural development backed by the NIRSAL, Elephant Group and a number of other off-takers.
He said: “We have an off-taker agreement and intend to harvest 17, 000 metric tons of rice by cultivating 4, 000 hectares of land and 11, 000 tons of maize by cultivating 6,600 hectares of land at the end of the planting season this year. Off-takers are on ground to buy off the produce, so farmers are assured of buyers for their produce.
“We are delighted at the bumper harvest in Warake, which follows the impressive performance of the farm at Agenebode. This is a testament to the fact that we are doing the right thing as regards rice farming in Edo State. We intend to expand the scope of what we have in order to accommodate more farmers.”
Investigation showed that the over 400 rice farmers, who benefitted from this year’s scheme, have harvested over 500 tons from the various locations of Agenebode, Warrake and Iguoriakhi.
Prince Okojie said the farmers are still harvesting the rice while trucks are on standby to take them to rice mills.
On when the rice would hit the market, Okojie explained that the state does not own a rice mill and, as such, sold the paddy rice to off-takers who would mill the rice and sell to the public.
“I assure you that the farmers are happy. We don’t have a rice mill and so cannot sell rice like Lagos State. We sell rice paddy to off-takers. As the farmers are harvesting, trucks have lined up to buy up the rice,” he said.
Farmers are smiling to the bank
Some of the farmers, who spoke to The Nation, said they are selling at the right price and hoped the government builds a rice mill so that Edo people could buy rice at cheap price. The farmers hailed the closure of the country’s borders, saying it made rice millers to buy their rice.
Suleiman Ibrahim, who was one of the farmers at Warrake said he has been a rice farmer for the past 10 years, but has never experienced state government’s intervention until Governor Obaseki assumed duty as the governor.
He said each farmer that participated in the programme is expected to make between N400,000 and N500,000 profits after each planting season.
He said: “This is a wonderful project. It is the type I have never seen in my life. You can see government helping us with full sincerity. The loan from the state government was a surprise to us and we are paying it with ease.
“In Warrake, we (31 farmers) cultivated 165 hectares. Each of us was given five hectares. Water stopped the tractors from clearing 250 for more farmers to benefit. Officials of NIRSAL were on ground to assist us apply fertilisers at the right time. We have harvested over 60 tons.
“We thank Governor Obaseki for this initiative. The least amount a farmer will get will not be less than N500,000. We pray God for more support. Trailers will be coming tomorrow to carry more rice.”
On the next planting season, Suleiman said they would start this December and they planned to clear 500 hectares.
“You know there are no rice mills in Edo. If the government will off-take the rice, then they can mill it and label it Edo State rice,” he said.
Mr. Shaibu Idatesaba in Agenebode said the flood affected the rice fields of 16 out of 42 farmers who cultivated 240 hectares. He, however, said the affected farmers insured their farms unlike last year when they suffered losses because they did not insure their farms.
“We are happy. We have harvested over 120 tons. The loan was soft and okay by us. Before, we used to source for loan ourselves, but now the Obaseki loan came as a gift.
“During the farming period, agronomists were on ground to support us and teach us how to do things. This time, we insured the farm because of our experience last year. The profit we made in four months was over N400, 000.”