Rice farmers in the country have criticised the Federal Government’s policy on assistance to enhance rice production, saying it is not getting to them.
The farmers in Kebbi, Ogun, Osun and the Ebonyi States said with the manner the programme was being implemented, Nigeria might not achieve self-sufficiency in rice in 2020 as it planned.
They said lack of government’s support in the form of loans, irrigation and equipment that could boost mechanised farming, was threatening rice production.
In Ebonyi State, both the small and large-scale farmers lamented their ordeals, saying the way farmers in the southern part of the country were being treated as different from their counterparts in the North.
A large-scale farmer, Mr Eche Dickson, from Oso Edda Community in the Afikpo South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, said imported rice would continue to flood the Nigerian market because the government lacked the political will to practise what it preached.
He stated, “The reason why we still have more imported rice in the Nigerian market is that governments at all levels do not practise what they are saying.
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The government said they don’t want to see foreign rice in the market, but the same people don’t want to give us incentives to produce rice locally. You don’t get equipment, you don’t get loans, and you don’t seeds.
“The state government said they were going to give us loans. We applied and started waiting. We waited and remained until September when many of us began to harvesting, and the loans didn’t come. We waited for the seeds they promised, and they didn’t come in time, either.
“I’m the Apex Value Chain Chairman in Afikpo South LGA and whatever I tell you here is the fact. We had our own seeds, but we thought the government was going to give us more improved seeds. We ended up receiving the worst seeds in our life from the government.
“The loans being touted by the government, we have not seen. They ‘played’ (us) farmers. I didn’t receive any loan and some farmers, who said they got loan said it was just N20, 000. What then would you do with that amount of money as a farmer?
“Government could have released the money, but middlemen who are mostly politicians hijacked it. They share it among their brothers and sisters. This is Nigeria. Politicians in government hijack these loans and embezzle them while the real farmers suffer.”
Dickson urged the government to assist farmers with equipment for mechanised farming.
“We have been doing manual farming, and it hasn’t taken us anywhere,” he added.
Another large-scale rice farmer, Usulor Emmanuel, a native of Onueke village in the Ezza South-South Local Government Area of the state, corroborated Dickson.
He said, “The government tries to make loans available to farmers, although we do not receive the loans eventually. The loans are usually blocked and taken by those who are not real farmers, the politicians.
“The loans the state government said they would give us ended up in the hands of politicians, who eventually shared them among their cronies. Manual farming can’t take us anywhere at this time when farmers in other climes have embraced mechanised farming, and the government won’t do anything to assist us with tractors, funding and others.”
In Kebbi State, a small-scale farmer, Alhaji Musa Argungu, said rice farming was no longer lucrative.
A large-scale farmer in the state, Alhaji Shuaibu Mungadi, who claimed that he produced between 4,000 and 7,000 bags of rice yearly, blamed both the states and federal governments for their failure to assist rice farmers financially and their refusal to establish grains marketing boards to buy surplus rice.
He maintained that since he started rice farming more than 10 years ago, he had not benefited anything from both Kebbi and the federal governments.
According to him, farmers in Kebbi are left at the mercy of rice processing firms which usually purchase rice from them at a ridiculous price but the later process and sell to the public at an exorbitant price.
He, therefore, called on the state and the federal governments to come to the aid of farmers by giving them soft loans and establishing the grains boards.
“I am appealing to the Kebbi State Government as well as the Federal Government to come to our aid and give us soft loans. They should also establish the grains boards so that they could purchase the rice we produce and should also do something to address the issue of rice importation,” Mungadi stated.
‘Farmers that are not connected don’t benefit.’
Also, a large-scale rice farmer in Gombe State, Alhaji Shuaibu Abdurahman, in an interview with The PUNCH, said imported rice was more than the locally, produced one in the state.
He also called on the government to assist rice farmers with funds.
“We need the government to ensure fertiliser gets to every farmer. It is one thing to provide it, and it is another thing to ensure every farmer gets it. If you are not well connected, you can’t benefit.”
Ekiti rice farmers lament land, loan scarcity, birds menace.
In Ekiti State, large-scale rice farmers said the land ownership system in the South-West geopolitical zone was a major problem confronting production of the cereal crop in the state.
A farmer, Mr Kolawole Rotimi, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “We want the land in Ekiti State opened up by the state government. The major factor in Ekiti State , which is a fallout of the land ownership system in the South-West. We need our farms to be in clusters of 500 hectares; it is then that it will be easy for the farms to be mechanised.”
Rotimi, who has about five hectares of rice farm at Ido and Ikoro Ekiti, listed lack of access to loans, “non-tractorable” roads to farmlands and neglect of dams among factors affecting rice farming in the state.
He said, “In Ekiti, the quantity of the local brand that we cultivate, Nerica 7 (popularly known as Igbemo Rice), is not enough. Because it is not a unique product, it is not much in circulation because it is more expensive than imported rice. The implication is that what we produce is not enough for consumption in Ekiti.”
Small-scale farmers in the state lamented the menace of birds, which they claimed, destroyed their farms during harvest.
The farmers said there would not be the solution in sight until the government provided them with equipment for mechanised farming.
A farmer, Toyin Ajileye, whose rice farm is on over three acres of land at Orun Ekiti in the Irepodun/Ifelodun Local Government Area, said, “If you are not careful and leave the birds to operate, they can destroy a five-acre rice farm in five hours.
“In advanced countries, they net rice farms, but that is impossible here because there are trees everywhere and our farms are not motorable for caterpillars to bulldoze and because of the small sizes of the scattered farms,” he added.
Another farmer, who produces Igbemo Rice on over four acres of land at Orun, Folorunso Asaolu, corroborated him, saying, “We are on the farms chasing birds from 6 am to 6 pm daily. It is possible to lose half of your expected harvest to birds.”
Ajileye and Asaolu called on all the tiers of government to address the problem of lack of motorable roads to their farms so that they could easily transport their produce to mills in the town.
They also canvassed financial support, including access to soft loans to expand their farms and other necessary facilities that would bring down the cost of production per acre.