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Controversy trails whereabouts of 100 rice milling centres

Controversy trails whereabouts of 100 rice milling centres

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Although official records show that the Federal Government has since set up rice over 100 rice milling centres but farmers across the country hardly know where these mills are located fueling fears that these so-called are white elephants projects. Olugbenga Adanikin who toured some farm settlements across the country reports

Horror stories of farmers

In the last farming season, an aged farmer who did not want his name in print got 43 bags of rice paddy. This, he said was even little compared to what farmers in the communities could get if rightly supported by the government.

The Nation gathered that some of the rice farmers trek as far as 30 kilometres to nearest rice mill in Idah town, Kogi state, on the eastern bank of the Niger River in the middle belt region.

In Okpakpata village of the state, Mr. Simeon Ikani, father of six children blamed government for failing to respond to their needs. To him, it’s been promises without fulfillments. He said farmers contend with poor access to water while rice are being milled at N250 per bucket at Idah.

“After harvesting our rice from the farm, we boil and dry it. We then carry it on our head to a place in Idah where we mill the rice. If a farmer is milling 10 buckets, that equals to N2,500.

“Our road from here to Ofuloko is bad. We want government to repair it so we can easily take our farm produce to the market.”

The villagers shared their pathetic sad stories adding that their wards could not also attend school as some of the teachers stayed away from school due to unpaid salaries. They claimed that except during political campaign, there is no government presence in the areas. But they applauded humanitarian bodies for making efforts to supporting the villagers, building their capacities.

Damodu Achema, a rice farmer in Okpakpata village, Igalamela/Odolu Local Government, Kogi State has just turned 60. At this age, he still enjoys farming. He plants mostly rice and cassava. But his excitement often turns bleak during harvests.

Reason: This is due to lack of access to rice milling machines to mill his paddy while bad roads to transport the goods remain yet another major challenge. “We have a lot of problems in our community. It is sad that we don’t have rice milling machines, so we suffer a lot before we take the paddy out to mill in town.”

Achema and other rice farmers in the community usually convey their rice paddy on their heads. It takes them about nine kilometres to reach the nearest rice milling centre in Idah.

Mr. Usman Haruna, another farmer has two wives and 10 children. Though in his early 40s, he feeds his family with proceeds from his harvests. His situation is not too different from Achema, who is also from the same local government but lives in Ofuloko community. As at the last farming season, he got 100 bags of rice paddy but milling was a difficult task.

“I farm rice, maize and cassava. After harvest, I dried and stored it before milling but I had to travel to Idah to do that. It’s a real problem for us, because we don’t have rice milling machines and the road to Idah is very bad.”

Unfavourable operating climate for farmers

It is a similar experience in Aku village, Adavi local government, Osara-Gada among others. These are the pathetic situation of the rural farmers in the country.

Aside tough process involved in land cultivation, without access to farm inputs and machinery, they grapple to process their produce, especially rice, cassava, grains despite 110 milling machines reportedly procured by the Federal Government.

“As ActionAid established this rice mill for us, we are very happy. We will no longer suffer and we will easily get market for our rice and other farm produce,” said Achema.

“In the area of machines like the ones provided by ActionAid, we don’t have it here until now. If you measure the kilometres before you transport your paddy from here to town, it is about nine kilometres, so it’s a big suffering to us. And before you get to Ajaka market, it will take you nine kilometres also,” Ikani who was able to mill about 50 bags of rice paddy through machines provided by ActionAid stated.

Startling revelations

Findings from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development showed that 30 states in Nigeria currently plants rice. But Kebbi, Ebonyi, Kogi and Zamfara States occupy pride of place in the scheme of things because of the massive production of rice in their respective domain.

Interestingly, the government claimed to have built over 100 mills evenly distributed across the states but no one seems to know where they are located.

Allocation of over N10.7 billion for 10 new rice mills, 100 additional mills

Available information sourced from the ministry showed that between February and July, 2017 the Federal Government claimed to have procured 100 rice milling machines meant to be installed in different parts of the country but the exact locations remained a mystery. In 2017 approved budget, N4, 155, 019, 415 was appropriated for purchase of farm equipment from N75,072,908,439.20 total budget allocation for capital projects in the ministry.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, at a town hall meeting in Umuahia shared the exciting news to obviously expectant public saying the machines would be sold to private millers at a subsidised rate.

Ogbeh described the gesture as part of intervention towards supporting the agriculture sector. But from the approved N4.15bn procurement, N1 billion was set aside to procure farm equipment for inputs for the 36 states of the federation (supply of agricultural machinery, mini combined harvester, 50-75 HP tractors and small tractors with basic spare parts). These gestures were ultimately expected to boost local rice production and support rural farmers, especially rice producers in the states.

Shortly in 2017, the procurement of 110 rice mills was firmly reiterated by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, in one of his press statements boasting that since October 2016, Nigeria had been feeding many parts of West, North and Central Africa as a result of the intervention. However, he never gave specific details on how the mills were distributed.

Till date, no such official information was made public by the ministry. Though, rice imports is said to have reduced significantly from the commencement of the current administration but local farmers are still confronted with milling challenge, except for private sectors investing in the mill business especially in the north.

In April, 2018 the Federal Government through the Federal Executive Council (FEC), almost a year after (2017), further approved the establishment of ‘very large’ additional 10 rice milling machines at the sum of N10.7 billion. The final agreement for the procurement did not hold until three months after, while the new integrated mills are expected to be delivered in December 2019.

According to the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Heineken Lokpobiri, the nation, as at that period of new approval, had only 21 rice mills, thus clearly contradicting the initial claims of the senior presidential aide and Ogbeh that 110 mills were already procured.

Other listed benefitting states are Kebbi, Zamfara, Benue, Bayelsa, Anambra, Kaduna, Niger, Ogun, and Bauchi.

The Minister listed intervention programmes rolled out by the Agric Ministry to include rice, maize, sorghum, wheat, groundnut, cowpea, soybean, millet, sesame, tomato, onion, okro, cocoyam, cassava, yam, ginger, cotton, cashew, oil palm, cocoa, fish, as well as animal and livestock.

“Under the Rice Value Chain – all rice producing states recorded an increase in rice production, with Lagos State having the highest increase of 30.5 per cent.

“Milling capacity of the functional integrated rice mills has increased from 13 to 21 mills and from less than 600,000 MT capacities to the current 1,295,000 MT,” said Ogbeh.

However, none of the seven villages visited in the state had benefited in any form. The Anchor Borrowers Programme they noted is still a mirage as they are yet to get credit supports of any kind.

Rural empowerment to reduce communal conflicts 

Beside provision of health supports and capacity buildings, an international organisation, ActionAid Nigeria identified most affected and secluded rural communities in the state and provided supports to improve their livelihood.

The support was in form of rice milling and processing centre for women and youth, bread making machines, grains grinding machines, cassava processing machines, brick block machine among others. The nine intervention projects in the rural communities gulped N36 million.

Some of the beneficiaries in the tucked in localities were filled with enthusiasm to have gotten such intervention despite being neglected by governments. The support programme according to the humanitarian body was mainly targeted to empower less privileged women and youth in poor and secluded villages.

On behalf of youth in Ofuloko community, Comrade Aminu Falaruna applauded ActionAid Nigeria and the implementing partner, Executive Director, Participation Initiative for Behavioural Change in Development (PIBCID), Mrs. Gift Owonipa for their ingenuity and commitment to supporting the poor. He said the support groups have been helpful to eradicating poverty among women and improving access to quality education in their communities since 2006.

ActionAid Country Director, Ene Obi, in her remarks, said the projects were to improve rural livelihoods, discourage youth from being used as political thugs and radicalism. The Country Director, represented by the Programme Manager, Humanitarian and Resilience, Ipoade Omilaju said the villages were selected based on data from the Bureau of Statistics to measure level of poverty.

The villages were considered as extremely poor communities, hence they got the intervention.

Lamentations galore

Despite these lofty promises and recent FEC approval, farmers in rural Kogi communities still lament over poor access to rice milling facilities, coupled with the pain of bad rural roads to transport their produce to market. “We have lots of problems and we do a lot of rice farming but we don’t know where we will mill it,” said 65 years old rice farmer.

Rebuttal

Reacting to this story, at an agreement signing between the Ministry and a local firm MV Agro Engineers, alongside its international partner, the Agric Minister clearly showed ignorance to the project cost of the 10 rice mills.

He was quick to ask his colleague, the Minister of State before affirming the project after the partnership agreement with the contractors. The minister said the N10.7 billion integrated rice milling machines will be delivered in December, 2019. He explained that the benefiting states would have to indicate interest as off-takers, make 10 percent down payment and express technical capacity to own and operate the mill while Bank of Agriculture (BoA) is expected to take over the loan repayment in the next 10 years.

“As these people arrive, they will install these mills and the BoA will take over the loans repayment over a period of 10 years,” Ogbeh said.

Asked if the 18 months deadline could be reviewed upward for benefit of the farmers, the minister noted that, “building machines is not cheap. It’s a scientific thing. These people say they may do it faster but we give them 18 months, so there won’t be issues for delays.”

Meanwhile, there are concerns on the actual status of the 100 rice mill and if by the data provided by the federal government, the rice mills in the country should have increased beyond 110 and more accessible.

“We are buying smaller mills and giving them out because the smaller mills produce more rice than the big mills added-up but they are scattered all over the country. Virtually every state has small rice mills somewhere, Niger, Bayelsa, Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Ebonyi, Katsina and Jigawa,” the minister stated.

On Kogi State poor access to rice mills, the minister advised the rural farmers to formally write and request for the mills. Ogbeh said there are plenty of mills in the ‘store’ but not accessed.

“Did they apply?” the Minister asked the reporter “We advised. Let them apply, we don’t discriminate wherever there is rice. I have been talking about rice mills for Igbaji, and asking people to apply. It is a swamp area. They can grow rice all year round. We have them in the store. Let them come, write a letter and we approve. We want everybody to grow rice everywhere,” Ogbeh added.

Sadly, majority of the rural farmers are uneducated and the ministry has very low extension workers who could interfere and support the community farmers not only in this area but also on farm inputs. The Minister has repeatedly complained on the ratio of farm extension workers to existing 13 million farmers scattered across the country.

The State Government, in its reaction through Chief of Staff to Kogi State Governor, Hon. Edward Onoja attested to sufferings of the rural dwellers and the bad road access. He admitted to the water shortage, poor health care delivery as well as inadequate farm inputs to the rural communities.

However, he said 500-kilometre rural roads would be constructed to assist farmers in evacuating their farm produce through the World Bank Rural Access Mobility Project (RAMP). While commending ActionAid and PIBCID for their sincerity of purpose to supporting the rural dwellers, he promised to make provision for 12 cottage industries in nine local government areas to boost the economy of rural communities.

Villagers depend daily on stream water for survival  

Residents in these villages trek two miles to the river to fetch water for domestic use. 2017 World Bank report stated that the country provided clean water to fewer than 10 percent of its city dwellers in 2015, this is lower from 29 per cent in 25 years.

The United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) pegged the data to 70 million people from a population of 170 million. It stated that the 70 million lacked access to safe water while over 110 million lacked access to improved sanitation in 2013.

But the Federal Government through the Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu said only 57 per cent of the nation’s population have access to potable water. He attributed this to population upsurge and climate change.

The community usually visits the river named ‘Aji Okpeji’ and the smaller one ‘Okpakpata River’ for all their needs.

“We don’t have pure water here. The borehole water we are managing is bad so we only rely on stream water. That’s what we use to cook, bath and for all our domestic use,” said Usman while he tried to justify the purity saying “the stream water flows, it is not stagnant.”

 

The post Controversy trails whereabouts of 100 rice milling centres appeared first on The Nation Nigeria.

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