YAHYA SARKI gives insight into the rage of Kebbi State rice producers over the continued importation of foreign rice into the country. They took their angry message to Governor Bagudu for onward transmission to President Muhammadu Buhari.
On May 22, hundreds of rice farmers under the auspices of Kebbi State Rice Farmers Association staged a peaceful procession to protest against the continued importation of foreign rice by the federal government into Nigeria. The farmers who thronged the state capital, Birnin Kebbi converged at about7am at their secretariat close to Rima Roundabout. They came in large numbers, men and women, young and old, large scale and small scale farmers from all the 21 local government areas of the state. The farmers led by their leaders marched through the major roads leading to Government House from their secretariat carrying placards with different inscriptions against the importation of foreign rice into the country and displaying different species of locally produced rice from their farms. They marched gradually to Government House singing, chanting and beating drums against the decision of federal government to continue to import foreign rice into Nigeria. The intention was to send a strong message to federal government through Governor Bagudu who is the chairman “Presidential Committee on the Production of Rice and Wheat in Nigeria” that the propose plan of importing foreign rice into the country was capable of derailing the ongoing rice revolution in the state and Nigeria in general and hurt the economy the more.
The Kebbi State chairman of Rice Farmers Association, Alhaji Muhammad Sahabi Augie while presenting the letter of the farmers grievances on the matter to Governor Bagudu at the Government House, said the proposed importation of foreign rice into the country was not in the best interest of local farmers because of its negative effects in the production and sale of local rice in Nigeria. According to him mass importation of the commodity into the country was capable of sabotaging the current efforts by local farmers in Nigeria to sustain farming because of the resultant effect of its price.
“We have heard that there is going to be mass importation of rice into the country, about eight ships loaded with foreign rice will soon touch the water shores of our country. Each one of this ship is capable of carrying about 1000 trailers loaded with rice. Most of these foreign rice is not even fit for human consumption. We urge you to deliver our message, our grievances to Mr. President. This plan of mass importation of foreign rice into Nigeria is detrimental to local farmers and capable of drawing back the already achievements recorded in our effort to be self-reliant in rice production thereby sabotaging our food security and endangering the current diversification agenda of our President’’, he argued.
It was a speech of outrage from one farmer to another, Alhaji Sani Hukuma Zauro at top of his voice expressed his disapproval over the proposed plan by federal government to import foreign rice into Nigeria. The farmer even warned that they will destroy any foreign rice that comes with Kebbi territory.
‘’Your excellency my governor, you can find over 10, 000 farmers in Bagudo, talk less of Argungu and even in Birnin Kebbi . To make it short wallahi in the whole of Nigeria, Kebbi is number one in farming. One can go to Kamba, Aljanare and many markets, at least not less than 500 trailers are loaded with rice. We will not forget that rice farming started getting a boost in Kebbi right from Aliero’s administration down to your own time. Let me sound words of warning to the director SSS and the police commissioner that we are going to be our own customs officers in the state, any store that keeps foreign rice wallahi we will burn it. We are going to station people to man our borders like Kamba Town and the other roads from Argungu to Kangiwa to stop any vehicle carrying foreign rice and burn it with petrol. Let me repeat myself that this action is not the governor that directed us to do it, it is our decision,’’ he said.
Balkisu Jega, a woman farmer in Jega local government, said women too are into farming like men and should equally be assisted like men. “We grow rice and wheat just like men do. We require assistance like improved seeds, watering machine, fertilisers and other inputs. Please government should not bring in rice from foreign countries because it will discourage us from farming rice’’, she shouted.
Another small scale farmer, Malan Ruwa argued that those who have not visited Kebbi did not know the volume of large scale farming the people are engaged. “They should visit rice farms in the state and have the opportunity to witness the massive rice production taking place in Kebbi. We cannot allow what we have suffered to produce to go in vain. Those sending ships loaded with foreign rice will not do so if they come to Kebbi and see how we are producing rice. Kebbi can feed the whole of Nigeria with rice. We are against importation of foreign to Nigeria. It will take us back from where we come from,” he said.
Governor Bagudu told the farmers that they have every right even by constitution to protest what they feel is detrimental to them. ‘’Your chairman gave me a message to the president on your protest against importation of foreign rice. I promise to deliver your message even as the chairman of Presidential Committee on Production of Rice in Nigeria. Certainly when President Buhari came to Kebbi over the plan for rice production, Kebbi farmers whole-heatedly embraced the initiative. But if the importation of foreign rice is allowed to be, it will derail the current initiative to massively produce rice in Nigeria, ‘’ Bagudu noted.
Why would the federal government go on with importation of foreign rice even after it has initially banned the importation of the commodity to encourage local production? Again, can the local farmers on their part produce enough to ensure that the current price of the commodity is within the reach of common man?
When the federal government launched the CBN’s “Anchor Borrowers Programme” in 2015 in Kebbi State, it was purposely done for two key reasons. First, was to stem the importation of foreign rice into the country because the country is said to spend N2.6 billion annually on importation of foreign rice. Secondly was to encourage local farmers to boost their production to bridge the gap or meet the requirement target of about six to seven million tonnes annually of locally produced rice required to totally stop the importation of the commodity. President Muhammad Buhari specifically came to Kebbi State in November, 2015 to flag off rice and wheat farming in the state as well as launch the CBN ‘Anchor Borrowers Programme’s’ that targets 75,000 local rice farmers to benefit from CBN loan scheme while rice milling companies would served as up takers of the commodity.
Kebbi was purposely selected because of its arable land and great feat it has achieved in the production of rice. At that event, Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu promised the president that his state can produce one million tonnes of rice within a year, leaving the remaining six million tones to other states to produce in order to attain production target of seven million tonnes annual to stop importation of foreign rice and help the country attain food security in no distance future.
Within a year of the rice campaign in Kebbi the state’s farmers did not let the governor down as they delivered the target of one million tones of rice. This necessitated the minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh , and the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emiefile to embark on a series of visits to Kebbi to see things for themselves and they happily told the world that Kebbi has set a new record and made a mark in agriculture, urging other states to emulate it.
The uncommon result recorded in rice production in the state was put down to political commitment on the part of Governor Bagudu and enthusiasm by Kebbi rice farmers.
Kebbi has since become the example of states like Lagos, Katsina and Ondo who want to excel in rice production. Katsina and Ondo states have sent delegations to Kebbi either to copy its agricultural policies and programme or to collaborate with state for the supply of rice. The collaboration between Lagos State and Kebbi, gave birth to LAKE RICE jointly produce by both states. Kebbi farmers have also been witnessing influx of agricultural firms and companies who show interests in business partnership with the farmers.
Interestingly also the state which is in dire need of industries saw the emergence of two giant rice mills, Labana Rice Mills, located in Birnin Kebbi which is capable of producing 320 tonnes per day, and Walcot Rice Mills in Argungu local government area of the state which is capable of producing 100, 000 tonnes of rice annually. Farmers in the state became rich, some outright millionaires within a short time from the production of rice, to the extent that most of the people from the state who easily paid for their hajj trip to to Saudi Arabia were farmers.
Emiefiele, while in Argungu to commission Watcot Rice Mills, a private rice mill, notedthat the state will produce 250,000 millionaires from farming by the end of 2017.