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As borders remain closed, rice mills open everywhere

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Rice paddy being parboiled locally before going to the mill in Benue State.

Following the closure of Nigerian land borders in August this year, hundreds of rice mills have sprung up, while those that were moribund now being activated in many rice-producing states of the federation. It has been reported that the border closure drastically brought down rice smuggling, which had affected farmers, processors and investors.

In a recent interview with Daily Trust, the managing director of Labana Rice Mill, producers of Lake and Labana rice, Alhaji Abdullahi Idris Zuru, said that before now, most of the existing rice mills had finished products in their warehouses because there was no market. He added that “some even suspended production.”

“That had created serious problems as some rice mills suspended production, some reduced workforce and some have been operating under low capacity. But with this development, almost all the mills have picked up. The millers are selling, the farmers are selling; and if this is sustained, you will see more people going back to the farm to continue rice production. The millers too will increase their capacity,” Zuru said.

Many large producers like Olam Nigeria, Umza Rice, Popular Farms Rice Mill, WACOT Rice Mill, Ebonyi Rice Mill have all increased their production capacity to meet the exiting internal demand. Dangote Group is also planning to establish a multi-billion naira rice processing mill in Hadin, Jigawa State.

The chairman of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, who laid the foundation stone for the construction of the mill, said it had the capacity to process 16 metric tons of paddy rice per hour when completed. He said that in a year, the mill would process paddy rice worth N14billion, bought directly from famers in Jigawa at market rate. Apart from the large millers, there are many medium-scale ones upgrading their facilities to strengthen production. They include NFG-CS Rice Mill in Ga’ate and many more in Lafia and Doma in Nasarawa State; Ogoja Rice Mill in Cross River. Our correspondents across the states report that rice is currently witnessing beehive of activities as thousands of small-scale milling activities occur. In Benue State, our correspondent reports that local rice millers and sellers in the state are making brisk businesses despite challenges of sophisticated equipment to improve on paddy processing. At the vicinity of the 34-year-old Wadata Rice Mill, workers were seen processing rice for sale to consumers. Some of the consumers were already bargaining for their preferred choice to take home. The chairman of Rice Sellers Welfare Association, Wadata in Makurdi, Benjamin Atumba, who also farms, mills and sells rice, said the best thing that happened to the sector in recent times was the closure of the country’s land borders. Atumba said Federal Government’s ban on importation of rice had boosted local production in the state in no small measure. “I can confidently say that this year, farmers, millers and sellers have gained. We are now encouraged to do more. Nigerians now know the value of locally produced rice; they also prefer it to foreign species,” he said.

He said the prices of rice had risen within the period of border closure, such that a 25kg bag of rice, which was formally sold at N4,500, now costs between N6,500 and N7,000, depending on the grade. He is, however, worried that due to lack of de-stoning machines, millers in the area are yet to reach their optimal output. He noted that the various categories of workers in the mill were doing their best to rid the processed rice of stones. “At this rice mill we don’t have de-stoning machines, but the government can help us as an association to own one. For now, we have old women at the mills, whose jobs are to filter and remove stones from the milled rice,” he added. Similarly, Oliver Aker, whose business is to parboil rice, admitted that the business had been quite flourishing since the Federal Government closed the country’s land borders. He said the business would thrive more if there were machines for the different processes involved in polishing the rice to its finest quality. He stressed the need for dryer machines. “It takes me two days to parboil a large drum of paddy rice and another two days to dry it. After this process, the chaffs are removed by the milling machine, then some people take their milled rice in large quantities elsewhere to de-stone. With the right machines we can produce more than what we are doing manually now,’’ he said. A miller, Mrs Ayam Chia, however, does not agree that rice business is thriving. She argued that apart from profits on paddy, milled rice hadn’t changed anything in fortune. She said things could be better for millers in times ahead, but not at the moment. In her estimation, patronages are even at its lowest ebb because people have no purchasing power.

“Nigerians should eat local rice because it is better than the expired foreign specie. Our rice lasts for only one year; it is rich in taste and nourishment,” Chia said. The secretary of the Wadata Rice Mill Sellers Association, Michael Iorkyar, said it took a minimum of two days during the dry season and three or more days at the wet season to dry paddy rice and get it ready for milling. Iorkyar disclosed that at least 10 milling centres were located in the Wadata area, while the industry, situated close to the bank of River Benue, in recent times had taken off many jobless youths off the streets by engaging them in rice processing. In Kano State, our correspondent learnt that the closure of Nigerian land borders had triggered the emergence of many rice milling outlets. It was gathered that rice business has become so lucrative that businessmen and women have ventured into it. According to Malam Iliya Sani Mamman, the business community in the state has realised that the number of milling companies cannot meet the growing demand for rice in Kano State and its neighbours, as such, they seized the opportunity to explore the sector. Another rice merchant, Alhaji Yusuf Magaji, told our correspondent that many smallholder rice milling centres had emerged in various local government areas in the state to complement the growing demand created by the recent border closure.

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According to him, in local governments like Bunkure, Kura, Garun Malam, Garko and Gezawa, among others, small-scale rice milling centres have emerged due to growing demand. It was also gathered that in Bunkure Local Government Area, women were initially engaged in rice milling processes, which left the rice poorly processed, resulting in low patronage. However, a foreign-supported agricultural project came to their rescue by encouraging them to form a cooperative group, through which a modern milling machine was provided for them via soft loan. This gesture, according to Malama Huwaila Bello Zangon Buhari, a member of the group, prompted another agricultural development project, Agricultural Transformation Agenda Support Programme Phase 1 (ATASP-1), built a modern rice processing and marketing centre for them, through which milled rice business is presently being conducted. According to Malama Huwaila, “A bag of paddy rice is milled in the centre at N1, 200 and N1, 400, depending on the type of milling one desires. Our machine has the capacity to mill 35 bags a day, that is making an average of N42, 000 daily and N1, 260.000 monthly.’’ It was gathered that Kano market is currently flooded with a brand of rice locally made by small-scale rice milling centres. Also, strong competition is now going on between the small-scale and mega rice milling companies. The issue lies between quality and the purchasing power of the end-user. At Katsina markets, local processors were seen purchasing paddy rice in bulk from local markets, while some foreign dealers were mopping up locally processed rice and polishing it before re-bagging to sell at high prices as foreign one. This is in addition to the proliferation of modern mills. Umar Nabara’u, a local rice processor at Funtua, said people were looking for every chance to exploit the fortunes of the rice market in the state. “The demand for the produce is high due to border closure. And the already established rice mills are yet to fully operate. That is why there is pressure on local rice. Last year, its price was not more than N24,000 per 100Kg, but this year, it started from N28,000, depending on its variety and quality,” Nabara’u said. He added that local rice dealers were at Kafur, Bakori and Dandume markets mopping up locally processed rice for onward transportation to Kano, where they sieve and polish it before re-bagging as foreign one. Alhaji Aminu Shu’aibu, a rice dealer, said that against people’s speculation, they add value to local rice before selling it, but not as foreign one. “Foreign rice is now either scarce or costly in the market, making it difficult for most consumers to access or afford it. Our locally established rice mills cannot meet up with market demand; hence we purchase the processed rice, sieve and polish it before selling it as made in Nigeria,” Alhaji Shu’aibu said. Speaking on the new development, one of the rice farmers in the state, Abdullahi Dango Masari said, “Because of the way some of us made huge revenue this year, there is every tendency for rice to dominate over 70per cent of our farms in the next farming season. We thank President Muhammadu Buhari for his unrelenting effort at boosting the agricultural sector in the country,” Masari stressed. Experts believe that if the current policy is sustained, more rice mills may come on board.

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