Ewa: With strategic policies, low interest loans, self-sufficiency in rice possible
I think both the federal and Ebonyi State governments have done enough to encourage more people to go into rice production, including those of us that were already rice farmers. Personally, I have increased my production this year. Last year, I cultivated one hectare and the yield was impressive, but due to government’s intervention, I cultivated two hectares this planting season, as a beneficiary of the One Man, One Hectare Scheme, an agricultural policy of Ebonyi State government, which over 50,000 farmers were captured.
And if you look at the yield that I have recorded, it is equally impressive. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) Anchor Borrower Scheme was also a boost to us. But I am really excited that Ebonyi rice farmers are happy this year because the harvest was impressive.
Is the country in any way moving closer to self-sufficiency in rice production?
Yes with what I am witnessing, it can be achieved, but government should encourage farmers by providing the enabling environment. Strategic policies should be put in place, farmers need good roads; farmers need improved varieties of rice seeds; farmers need fertilizer and insecticide at low cost and farmers need soft loans at low interest rate.
The CBN Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme and other agriculture policies and programmes should be sustained and made more functional. Mechanised farming should be encouraged; irrigation practice should also be introduced. I am much optimistic that with all these in place, very soon the country will cultivate enough rice to feed the nation, even beyond.
What are the basic challenges facing rice farmers and rice production generally in the state?
There are many experiences when it comes to rice production, some are man-made, while some are natural, but one of the main challenges is paucity of funds. Many farmers have the experience and what it takes to go into full scale rice production, but they are limited due to lack of funds, as most government programmes and policies favour the elite, and that is very dangerous.
Most genuine farmers are relegated to the background, and most often they find it very difficult to access the little funds available, or meet the needed requirements. So, they find it difficult to expand. I think other state governments should emulate Ebonyi State’s approach to rice production, because the state makes it possible for every farmer to be captured in their programmes.
Another challenge is the lack of proper information on new developments or breakthroughs. Farmers mostly those in the rural areas are not aware of new trends, consequently, they still practice farming the old way. They don’t know of modern farm equipment and implements. The issue of pest is another challenge that farmers are grappling with. In addition to this, we encountered reasonable setback during the start of the farming season, as the rains were slow, and this gave us so much worries, but now we are enjoying the high yields.
Having high yields is one thing, while patronage from Nigerians is another, especially when placed side-by-side foreign rice. How is it playing out?
The patronage has been very impressive, especially here in Ebonyi State, where the demand for our rice is high, the ban on foreign rice by the state government coupled, with the rumoured availability of plastic foreign rice in the country served as a trigger for high demand of local rice, especially Abakaliki Rice.
Many people across the country are coming to Abakaliki to buy rice, and capacity of our mills is unable to satisfy our numerous customers. If you go to our mills, you will understand what I am saying, as no one is asking for foreign rice again; everyone now wants to eat Ebonyi rice and people are coming from different parts of the country to buy Ebonyi rice, we are happy with the development because our farmers and rice dealers are making quick sales and profits.
So, with this development, I see more people going into rice farming, and that is why I am appealing to government to mop up the excesses through preservation so that there will be enough until April, when the produce will be scarce in the new season. We do not want a repeat of previous experiences, where we had much food wastage due to our inability to preserve the excesses.
What does Nigeria need to improve its rice production?
The government should put in place pragmatic steps and sustainable food policies that would encourage farmers to increase their outputs, which would boost food sufficiency in the country.
Apart from assisting farmers through incentives, government should revive farm settlements across the country. These farm settlements boosted the country’s food security and provided employment for our people in the 1980’s.
There has been subtle clamour for the return of marketing boards for the rice sector. How do you see this agitation?
I don’t know much about the agitation for return of marketing board for rice sector, but what the country needs now is robust, practical and workable approaches that would ensure the availability of enough rice. If those in charge of the agricultural sector feel that the board is necessary, I have no objection.
Since yields are improving and some state governments are doing their bid to support farmers, when will the country begin exportation of rice?
Very soon. In Ebonyi State, almost all households have rice farms, and any available land is used for rice production. So, if we continue to have high yields, the country may rank among the highest producers of rice globally.
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