By Jimoh Babatunde

MANY people might  not have been to the sleepy town  of Ofada  in Obafemi Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State, but once  Ofada is mentioned  they link it to the Ofada rice enjoyed by many in Nigeria and beyond. Ofada is a generic name used to describe all rice produced and processed in the rice producing clusters of South-West Nigeria. But all that might be a thing of the past if care is not taken as the people of the town are gradually abandoning rice cultivation due to the challenges of urbanisation, quality planting materials, seed and markets.

From left: Premchand, Business Head, W/Africa, UPL Ric Co; Sunil Mohta, GM Sprinfield; Nishanti Pahuja, Head Africa, UPL; Pinky Ghosh, Director Rico Co; Martin Poveda, Director Rice Co; and Victor Eburajolo, Director Sprinfield during a press briefing on the partnership between RiceCo and Springfield, in Lagos.
From left: Premchand, Business Head, W/Africa, UPL Ric Co; Sunil Mohta, GM Sprinfield; Nishanti Pahuja, Head Africa, UPL; Pinky Ghosh, Director Rico Co; Martin Poveda, Director Rice Co; and Victor Eburajolo, Director Sprinfield during a press briefing on the partnership between RiceCo and Springfield, in Lagos.

For Taoreed Sowewimo, a rice farmer in Ofada , born into rice cultivating family and has been cultivating rice for the past 30 years,  the rapid urbanisation  that is catching up with the area is depriving many access to land as many families see no reason why they have to cultivate rice that will earn them little or nothing when they can make millions from the same size of land when sold to housing developers.

“The youths are not interested in cultivating farming as they see it as road to poverty, so you find them putting pressure on their parents to sell  their lands to developers  for housing purposes. Most of the buildings you see around now were farms of our fathers when we were growing up.” Taoreed said for any farmer willing to cultivate rice in Ofada town today that such a farmer will need to go to neighbouring villages. Apart from access to land, Taoreed  decried  the lack of  quality seeds, machineries, credit facilities and markets.

“ I used to cultivate between 7-10 hectres of  land for rice, but because of lack of quality seeds and  the stress of harvesting not to talk of poor marketing, I have have reduced my size of land.” His friend, John Obadare, added  that  most of the farmers stopped cultivation of rice  because  birds eat some of the crops, leading to losses sometimes, adding that they also  lack proper drying facilities, which force them to dry the rice on bare ground, which contaminate it with stones. This lowers the quality of the rice.

Taoreed said they  have joined co-operative societies hoping to benefit from various governments facilities, but to no avail as they still need to bribe government officials at the local government to assist them with harvesters, though they carry out weed control manually. “The cost of pesticides they use to spray the rice for  diseases control  is expensive.”

Diseases control

Taoreed and his friend agreed that small-holder rice farmers will find it difficult to contribute to the nations quest for rice sufficiency from their experiences in Ofada and surrounding villages and the need for importation to meet the rice need of  Nigerians will continue for years ahead.

But when told about the released of  more than $1 billion  by the Federal government to boost local rice production and to reduce imports of the commodity through the Presidential Rice Initiative, Sowemimo and his friend were quick to say that they have heard of several initiatives in the past without any success, adding that the portfolio  farmers do have access to what they called government’s largess.

The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said in Abuja recently that large-scale rice farmers would  be empowered to ensure the successful implementation of the Presidential Rice Initiative. Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest rice producer, plans to raise production to 300,000 metric tonnes a year. This will reduce its imports by 15 per cent and cut costs by $342 million a year. Estimates are that the demand will be 35 million tonnes by 2050.

Average rice yield

But for the Deputy Managing Director, Kewalram Chanrai Group and Director, Spring Field Agro Limited, Mr Victor Eburajolo, the current average rice yield nationwide stands at about three tonnes per hectare, which is far lower than the international average of six tonnes per hectare, is not encouraging. While attributing it  to low hybrid seed uptake amongst the smallholder farmers, he said the new drive of the government to boost local rice production should be supported by private investors.

Eburajolo sees the local rice generating huge foreign exchange for the country if rice farmers exploit best agronomical practices. He said with access to  improved seeds, pesticides and fungicides, rice farmers can increase production thereby help in making the country food sufficient, so Eburajolo wouldn’t want rice importation to continue under any guise. Eburajolo said as parts of his organisation’s efforts  at bridging the gap in local rice production that they are partnering with RiceCo, a subsidiary of United Phosphorus Limited of the United States, to produce rice dedicated fertiliser and rice hybrid seed as a way of boosting food productivity in the country.

He said RiceCo was founded to meet the specific technology needs of rice farmers, stating that his company is encouraged to go into rice production by the government’s pledge to create an enabling environment  for agriculture to be transformed into a viable business. Pinky Ghosh,International Operations Director, RiceCo,  expressed concern that farmers are not making enough money from rice cultivation. This is as a result of not using quality seeds and farm inputs.

As part of the benefits of the partnership, Ghosh said her organisation will work with Spring Field Agro Limited to enable smallholder farmers’ cultivate hybrid rice seeds and good management practices to boost yields per hectare. According to her, an improved quality of rice is the key to bigger farm incomes and taking the crop to new and more profitable markets. For years now, she said her organisation has been producing hybrid rice seed and dedicated fertilisers for use by local communities.

Experience, she added, has shown that a little capacity building can change the situation within a very short period. In addition, she said farmers  need advice on modern farm technologies that will help to expand the production cycle and increase their rice production and profit.

Quality improvements

She said improving on milling is the way forward for the industry. More efficient mills, she noted, will trigger higher productivity and usher in quality improvements at the farm level.

Ghosh said her organisation has done a lot combining field experience, scientific research and innovative thinking to solve the most challenging crop protection problems domestically and around the world. From small rice mill with traditional rice production machine to state-of-the-art rice production machines and modern rice reprocessing system, she reiterated that her organisation is determined to transform rice production to reduce importation. The Head Africa, United Phosphorus Limited, Mr Nishant Pahuja said his organisation is using seeds as conduit for moving new varieties, giving farmers access to more productive, yield-enhancing traits.Pahuja said his organisation uses rice seeds to boost nutrition, with bio-fortified varieties that elevate micro-nutrient levels.

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