June 11, 2009

Stakeholders chart course for improved rice production

By Henry Umoru
THE United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and major stakeholders in the Agriculture sector yesterday urged the Federal government to as a matter of urgency  bring up modalities that would increase the competitiveness of agro business especially in the face of the present global economic meltdown.

Participants yesterday at an event organized by the Maximizing Agricultural Revenues and Key Enterprises in Targeted Sites (MARKETS), a non_profit organization funded by USAID, stressed that Nigeria could double its production capacity of rice and discourage rice importation.

Speaking at the forum which took place at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, the Managing Director of USAID_MARET, Mr. Tim Prewitt, who noted that when encouraged in Nigeria, rice production could be very attractive and profitable in the country as business and investment opportunities abound in that area of Agriculture, said it worked in Benue state where USAID was undertaking a rice production project.

Prewitt, who disclosed that rice processing in Benue had improved tremendously following the support from key agencies like farmers’ cooperatives, First Bank of Nigeria, Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation, ADP/Benue State government, and Olam Nigeria Limited, said, “ for instance, ‘Mama’s Pride’ competes on both price and quality with imported rice”.

MARKETS boss who explained that the organization was encouraging investments to the tune of over 40 million dollars from stakeholders into Nigeria’s agribusiness sector, said,  “While Nigeria’s average yield per hectare has fallen below the ECOWAS average, his agency, USAID_MARKETS has demonstrated that the capacity to increase yield is substantial.”

According to him, if Nigeria must get there as well as attract global capital into agribusiness, there was the need to use the existing successful businesses as a demonstration effect, adhere strictly to rule of law, quick registry of a business, swift registry of land and a land title regime, enforcement of contracts and due process in disputes, expedient and transparent permitting process, an attractive tax regime, ease in securing credit, and sound and reliable import/export procedures.

Prewitt, who called for value_chain development as source of continued efficiency improvement, stressed the need for competitive pressure within the industry, adding that USAIDMARKETS had worked with tens of thousands of farmers, processors and service markets, and had achieved significant success.