By Jimoh Babatunde
With an estimated amount of N356 billion spent on importation of rice annually, Nigeria is currently the second largest importer of rice in the world, and the largest net importer in Africa.
Based on these facts, many Nigerians have bemoaned what the country spends every year on the importation of rice which they believe the country has no reason to do as it has capacity to produced the commodity locally and even export.
Under the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) of the previous administration, tremendous achievement in rice production went beyond what could be wished away as millions of additional metric tons of food were added to local supplies and with rice experiencing a significant increase.
The present administration under President Muhammadu Buhari has declared that the nation’s quest for self-sufficiency in rice production will soon be realised going by the by the standard and quality of rice locally produced as well as level of commitment and vision demonstrated by local rice farmers and millers.
One of the local companies that is giving hope to the realisation of the self sufficiency in rice is Pearl Universal Impex Limited, a major importer of rice in the country that has now invested in local rice production and milling in Niger state.
The chairman of the company, Pulkit Jain, disclosed that the company has been a major importer of rice in the country with imports of 350,000 metric tonnes of rice annually in the past, but chose to invest in cultivation and milling of scientifically tested, high yielding varieties of rice in order to achieve the Federal Government’s target of achieving self-sufficiency in rice production.
He said to underline their commitment that the company in June this year started a pilot scheme to determine the variety of rice most suitable to the region at a 500 hectares of land in Saminaka, a community situated around Swashi Dam in Borgu local Government Area of the state.
The Pearl Universal Impex’s model, he explained , combines a commercial farm with a programme that works with nearby farmers, called out-growers, allowing the company greater control over its product while still leaving room to foster and train local small-scale farmers in rice production.
To this end, Jain revealed that $100million (N200bn) will be committed to the cultivation of 7,500 hectares of rice farm and construction of two rice mills in the state in the next three years.
He said the move was predicated on the successful rice yield of seven metric tonnes per hectare at the trial phase of the project, adding that the company will now move to another 2000 hectares of land for cultivation this December.
Jain added that the firm’s focus will be primarily on dry season farming as it was easier to manage, even as the company intends to grow rice three times a year on the land.
While pointing out that the equipment for the next phase of the project had already been shipped and would berth in the shores of Nigeria any time in January 2016, Jain explained that the company has not spared any effort in training the local farmers on the scientific method of cultivating rice in order to get a better yield, adding that at the moment, there were 100 workers in the company’s employ that have been well trained.
Speaking during a visit to the new Emir of Borgu, Mohammed Sanni, the company’s boss commended the new Emir for the harmonious relationship between the company and community. Jain informed the monarch that the local farmers using their leased land for farming purposes had never been forcefully ejected from the place, but that it was a deliberate policy of the company to employ and train them instead of out rightly asking them to give up the land whenever there was the need for the company to use more land for cultivation.
Jain said the company has challenges in the areas of access road to its farm and also the near- absence of network services for effective communication and the technical know-how of the community.
He therefore called on the government to intervene adding that a support from government in terms access to loans from banks like the Bank of Agriculture and the Bank of Industry (BoI) would greatly help to speed up development in the area.
Reacting, the the new Emir of Borgu, Mohammed Sanni, urged the government to support rice farmers and millers in order to realise the value chain on the commodity, while commending the PJS for the project in his domain.
“Many firms came here and indicated interest in thought commitment. This PJS came and indicated stronger commitment and went into action immediately. We want the Government to support firms like PJS that goes out of their way to invest in agricultural backward integration policy.
This place is very remote/far from the city which is more than six hours drive from Minna and PJS is ready to do business here.” The Emir noted with delight.
Alhaji Mohammed noted with joy that the villagers have benefited immensely from capacity building of the firm in term of knowledge, High tech in advanced rice farming and handling High tech machines.
“We will support the company to consolidate in growth. They will not regret coming this way.”