It is not news that prices of staple food items have skyrocketed and rice is one of them. In the face of scanty rainfall and uncertain economic policies, food scarcity has hit many homes in Nigeria.
PLANS by the current administration to make the country self-sufficient in rice production by 2019 received a boost recently with the inauguration of a project that promises great support in this direction. The two-year initiative – Rice Seed Up-Scaling Project – was inaugurated by the Director- General, National Agricultural Seed Council (NASC), Mr Olusegun Ojo, in Abuja recently. The project, which runs from March, 2016 to December, 2017, is an initiative of the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD) on the platform of the West Africa Seed Programme (WASP). It is being implemented by CORAF/WECARD in collaboration with the Seed Entrepreneurs Association of Nigeria (SEEDAN), the umbrella body of private seed companies in the country; and the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA). Other participants in the project who are key players in the rice value chain are selected seed companies such as the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), input suppliers, financial service providers, rice millers and the NASC. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is funding the project with 800,000 dollars, while SEEDAN is providing the technical support to ensure a seamless implementation. Stakeholders believe that the project will significantly aid government’s efforts at bridging the huge gap between local production and demand for rice which currently stands between five and 6.4 million metric tonnes annually. In spite of its huge potential and comparative advantage in rice production, Nigeria currently ranks as the second largest importer of rice in the world and the largest net importer in Africa, spending an estimated N356 billion on importation of the staple annually. Speaking at the project inauguration and planning meeting, the President of SEEDAN, Mr Richard Olafare, said that the project would significantly aid government’s efforts at addressing the production shortfall. The initiative, according to him, seeks to strengthen the production capabilities of the country’s rice farmers and other players in the sub-sector, including seed companies and link them to improved inputs and finance. Olafare explained that the project would bring a total of 20,000 hectares of farmland in selected seven states under cultivation using 1,200 metric tonnes of certified seeds to produce a targeted 60,000 metric tonnes of paddy rice by December 2017. The SEEDAN president listed the selected states as Kano, Niger, Kebbi, Zamfara, Benue, Ekiti and Ebonyi, adding that they were selected based on their comparative advantage in rice production. According to him, more than 20,000 farmers, 50 per cent of whom will be women and 40 per cent youths, will be engaged in the Rice Seed Up- Scaling Project in the targeted states. “The project is in support of the ECOWAS Rice Offensive Programme, which has taken off in four pilot countries namely Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal. Among the four countries, Nigeria has the largest chunk of the budget and this is a reflection of the significant role the country is playing as a leader in the regional seed industry,’’ Olafare said. He solicited the support of stakeholders and commitment of participants to ensure that the country did not fail in the task of realising the project objectives. The project lead consultant, Mr Okelola Folarin, said other high points of the project were seed planning, connecting and strengthening the capacity of actors along the rice value chain as well as facilitating access to equipment and proper storage. “The main objective of the project is to promote the use of certified high yielding rice seeds. We want to scale up the use of improved rice seeds. Rice has been observed to be very important for food security sustainability in West Africa vis a vis increasing farmers income, creatingwealth and making life better for the farming populace. “We want to improve on the livelihood of people and one way to do it is by promoting rice production; and you cannot promote production without quality seeds. So, this project is looking at utilising 1,200 metric tonnes of seeds within the two years. It is expected that if these seeds are used, we are going to be able to produce about 60,000 metric tonnes of paddy for the two years. “We have split this into what we can do in 2016 and what we will do in 2017. For 2016, we are looking at producing about 48,000 tonnes of paddy and the balance of 12,000 tonnes will be produced in 2017,’’ he said. The lead consultant explained that the project was designed to provide a link between the participating rice farmers and selected millers, including Labana, Miva, Lagos Rice, and Onyx. “We have been able to secure the buy in of those selected rice millers, who will serve as off-takers for the targeted 60,000 metric tonnes that will be produced by the participating farmers. “You can see the connection being provided here; the seed companies will supply the farmers with high yielding seeds to be certified by the NASC, while the seed millers will buy off the produce from the farmers. It goes beyond that because you cannot produce when the capacity is not there. We are also building the capacity of more than 120 persons cutting across thevarious sectors of the rice value chain. “We are equally going to promote demonstration because we know that some varieties have been developed over times that are not in the hands of the farmers. So, we want to compare these varieties with the ones we are promoting to make sure that in the next few years, we can replace materials in the hands of farmers with better varieties that have been developed by research,’’ he said. Mr Olusegun Ojo, the Director-General of NASC, said that the council had a critical role to play in the project implementation, being the sector regulator. “NASC is a member of the national project steering committee; and our role is to guarantee the quality of seeds to be deployed by ensuring that participating seed companies
are not only accredited but also play by the rules. “In other words, the council will carry out third party quality assurance for all seed production and provide clearance for seed suppliers under the project,’’ he said. The Head of Operations, Bank of Agriculture (BOA), Ruphina Atima, informed the participants that the bank would support the project through provision of funds to participating companies and farmers using the Anchor Borrowers model of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Also speaking, the Agricultural Officer of First City Monumental Bank, Mr Uchenna Obih, said the bank was ready to support the initiative, adding that its management had already approved N2 billion to support seed production in the country. The highpoint of the meeting was the inauguration of the seven- member National Project Steering Committee consisting of SEEDAN, RIFAN, NASC, NCRI, BOA, FCMB and WASP. Stakeholders rose from the meeting with a number of resolutions, including the need for close collaboration among financial institutions, NASC and SEEDAN. They also resolved to sign Memoranda of Understanding among themselves and begin immediate implementation of the project to end rice importation.(NAN)