The Federal Government has restated its commitment in the promotion of the rice value chain in Nigeria, saying the nation cannot afford to continue spending huge amount of its foreign reserve on rice importation which it can grow locally.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Mohammed Abubakar made this known during the opening ceremony of the Eight International Rice Africa conference with the theme – ‘Promoting homegrown rice for wealth creation and sustainable development’ organized by Rice Africa in collaboration with the Ministry and the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) today (September 22) in Abuja.
He reiterated government’s commitment to the promotion of the agricultural sector in order to realise its potential of achieving food and nutrition security for Nigeria’s teeming population.
“The rice value chain is strategic in achieving these objectives because rice is consumed widely by every household in Nigeria on a daily basis and the country cannot afford to continue spending huge amount of its foreign reserve on rice importation which we can grow locally,” he said.
Represented by the ministry’s desk officer on cereals, Dr. Fatima Aliyu, Abubakar averred, the purpose of the conference I understand is to discuss the current situation and challenges confronting the rice value chain in Nigeria and come up with solutions that will drive sustainable growth in rice production, processing and marketing in order to attain the national demand and for export.
The minister urged participants to deepen useful collaborations amongst themselves as well as come up with revolutions that would advance the development of the rice sector in the country.
In his address, the RMRDC director-general, Prof. Hussaini Ibrahim, pointed out that rice is the only crop grown nationwide in all agro-ecological zones from the Sahel to the coastal swamps.
Saying Nigeria has over 4.0 million hectares suitable for rice cultivation, Ibrahim lamented that only 2.0 million hectares are currently being cultivated with over 3.8 million tonnes of rice crop per annum.
According to him, despite this high production figure, Nigeria still spends over $600 million annually importing rice.
Represented by the council’s head of department on food and beverages, Mr. Sheriff Musa, Ibrahim urged the FMARD to focus on how to get modern rice processing techniques to more processors, adding the processors should be supported with input supply and credit.
He urged federal and state ministries, local government and the private sector to invest in modern rice processing equipment and situated close to rice processor with good access roads, even as he called for zero tariff on importation of processing equipment’s.
Giving future outlook of the rice sector, the executive director, National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi, Dr. Aliyu Umar, said it is critical for future research to adopt new approaches and innovations to break the yield ground of the current released materials through hybrid technology, and also bridge the gap between experimental yield and farmers’ yields.
“Breeding for varieties with good cooking, eating and milling qualities will also take center stage in near future as economic status of average Nigerians improves and food habit changes towards high quality rice,” he said.
Umar added that the challenges of agricultural production can be tasking/enormous but with collective efforts, it can and shall be overcome.
Earlier, in his welcome address, the team leader, Rice-Africa, Prof. Ernest Idu, said the conference provides the opportunity for critical stakeholders in the rice sector to connect annually and share ideas that would further develop the rice industry in the country.
“Rice Africa International Conference, from the field to the table, the farmers, the processors, the marketers, the researcher to create synergy to support the rice industry.
“This conference aims to bring stakeholders together. This conference has a little departure from the usual academic conference where we go to classes and make presentations and go away. With this conference we want the processors, marketers, producers, equipment dealers to come and express themselves.
“In addition to the technical discussion, we gather these stakeholders yearly to build their capacity, and there is also the exhibition section, where we will see what we have produced, what is available and the challenges.
“We are here to build on where we were and develop our capacity, increase our productivity in the production and processing,” he added.