The ambition of the federal government to boost local rice production and make the nation self sufficient in its production is a difficult task except priority is given to critical areas that will make it a reality.
Speaking in Lagos at a one day seminar on “Sustainable Agriculture Under Economic Recession” organised by Nigerian Association of Agricultural Journalists, NAAJ,the managing director and chief executive officer of Elephant Group, limited, Tunji Owoeye, observed that the gap between demand and supply of rice is huge and except priority is given to key areas in the production cycle, it would take so long to achieve the dream.
Owoeye who spoke through Dr. Rotimi Fashola senior partner with OIT Fash Consults, put national rice demand at excess of 6 million tons, while local farmers total output is barely above 3 million tons, adding that, “With our population growth rate, the gap would be wider in the next few years, if something urgent is not done”.
Suggesting the way forward, he noted that countries that are currently self sufficient in rice production adopted three major strategic initiatives and models that could still be applied in Nigeria.
First, he said irrigation is key to all round the year rice production. He said that Nigeria should not practice rain fed agriculture that is solely depending on rain and planting once.
Raining season is short,less than five months in some areas, he said, “so we lose the remaining seven (7) months. If you are able to grow a crop that last 3-4 months on the field under irrigation, it means you can grow it at least 2 times in a year”.
Owoeye, also said that mechanisation is key to boosting local rice production as it removes drudgery associated with rice farming as well as reduce drastically losses during production and at harvest.
With mechanised method, production is more efficient while large rice production is better practised as against small parcels of land cultivated by majority of Nigerian farmers, he explained.
He also suggested that government should prioritise production in ecologies that are appropriate for the production of rice. In other words, in places that have water bodies that can support lowland rice production farmers should not do other crops except rice.
Owoeye therefore maintained that for rice sufficiency to be attained, government must focus on specialisation and emphasis placed on places already identified as ecologies where rice can be cultivated successfully.
He disclosed that in Nigeria, less than 10 percent of the 3.4 million hectares of land that could be irrigated are currently irrigated.