Jonathan Eze examines the positive impact the commissioning of the WACOT Rice Mill in Kebbi would have on food sufficiency.
The recent commissioning of the WACOT Rice Mill in Argungu, Kebbi State is undoubtedly a major boost to the federal government’s determination supported by the private sector to ensure that enough rice is produced in Nigeria to meet the needs of the country. The WACOT Rice Mill, which is currently the largest in the West African sub-region, has the capacity to produce top-quality rice comparable to imported rice from Thailand and India.
President Muhammadu Buhari, through the Central Bank of Nigeria had launched an Anchor Borrowers Programme for rice and wheat farmers to advance their status from small holder farmers to commercial or large growers in Kebbi state. At the launch in 2015, Buhari expressed optimism that the Programme had a potential of creating millions of jobs and lifting thousands of small holder farmers out of poverty.
Under the programme, CBN had set aside 40 billion Naira out of the N220billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund (MSMEDF), to be given to farmers at single digit interest rate of maximum nine per cent per annum.
Buhari told the gathering of farmers and some Governors of rice and wheat producing states in Nigeria that the federal government would favour the programme because it squarely aligned with the government’s aspiration to achieve food security for Nigeria.
In line with the federal government food sufficiency goal, acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo recently unveiled the state-of-the-art WACOT Rice Processing Mill in Argungu, Kebbi State.
According to available statistics, about 7million metric tonnes of rice is consumed annually in Nigeria while local production now stands at about 3.9 million metrics tonnes annually leaving a gap of about 3million tonnes. It is however pertinent to mention that local paddy production by Nigerian farmers has increased by about two million metric tonnes in the last two years as a result of the renewed support the farmers are receiving from various private sector organisations.
Speaking at the event, the Group Managing Director of TGI Group, the parent company of WACOT Limited, Mr. Rahul Savara said that the company is empowering farmers through its out growers scheme and that more than 5,000 farmers in the state have benefited from the initiative.
“WACOT has trained about 5,000 farmers on good farming practices. The farmers are engaged on multiple levels such as the field and demonstration farms. We also set up farmers’ business school to teach them financial management, cost of production, and best ways of investing their money.
“We have also worked with a lot of female-led organisations to create self-sustainable groups and make them economically viable.”
On quality, Savara said WACOT Rice Limited has the capacity to produce world class rice that could be compared with those produced in Thailand and India because it has the required machines, boilers and other equipment needed to produce high quality rice.
“We need to change the notion that Nigerian rice is inferior to Thai rice. Our rice has passed through food safety standards and control and we are set to meet our targets.
Commending TGI Group for supporting and investing in the food security vision of the federal government, Osinbajo restated that the federal government will in the next two years concentrate its attention on agriculture and food security, energy, (power and petroleum), industrialisation and transport infrastructure.
He also disclosed that the government will continue to work closely with the private sector, giving them the necessary incentives and creating an enabling environment for them to invest and do business.
“This mill is important for several reasons. First, it underscores the policies of the federal government that it is the private sector that must be the engine of development. The private sector being the engine of development is not just having the sector grow but the growth must be growth with jobs, the development we are talking about is growth with jobs. We have seen a lot of jobless growth in some sector of the economy with a lot of revenue coming in but with very few jobs.
With this Rice Mill, Several thousands of our farmers have been engaged in farming, this is a growth with job and the Group Managing Director has assured that in a couple of years, they expect to have engaged 50,000 more farmers. This is the kind of private sector led growth that we want to see”, Osinbajo added.
Many Nigerians including Buhari have emphasised the need to move the nation away from over-dependence on crude oil. The situation in the international oil market calls for an urgent need to diversify both the productive and revenue base of the nation’s economy and conserve foreign reserve by limiting the importation of goods that could be produced locally.
The plummeted price of crude oil means that there are limited resources available to governments at all levels. Therefore, the diversification of the economy is no longer an option for the nation. It is the only way to reclaim economic momentum and drive to prosperity. The only way to do this is to go back to the land and develop our agricultural production.
If the current momentum is sustained, the economic diversification goal of the Federal government may be achieved in the shortest possible time going by the revelation by Savara that the current phase of the Rice Mill has a production capacity of 120,000 metric tonnes per annum and that the company intends to increase its rice milling capacity in Nigeria to 500,000 metric tonnes per annum in the next few years.
He appreciated the effort of the federal government for its various initiatives in support of agriculture through the CBN and other mediums, which has impacted the growth of the sector positively, and has also served as a motivation for private sector players in the sector.
“Therefore, for us this is just the beginning. We have plans to invest over N100 billion over the next years in various agricultural value chains.”
It is worthy of note that the rice processing plant is the first rice mill to be conceptualised, executed and commissioned during the Buhari administration. The construction of the mill was first announced by the Governor of Kebbi State in November 2015, when Buhari launched the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers Programme in Birnin-Kebbi. Work started on the mill in February 2016 and it has now commenced operations.