Not too far from today, perhaps within the next decade, Nigeria will become one of the leading exporters of milled rice in the world; our locally processed rice will rival the likes of the Basmati rice from India and those produced by other leading rice exporting countries. Hearing this, if your curiosity is channelled towards understanding how, why or where I find the boldness to make such wild claims, then your curiosity is misplaced. What you should be wondering is WHY NOT? As a country, we already produce about half the milled rice produced in Africa, and if this is the case, then why should we not have the ambition to become one of the leading exporters of rice in the world?
According to the Department of Agriculture in the United States, about 504.17 million metric tons of milled rice was produced in 2020/2021 around the world, recording an increment in production of about 54.87 million metric tons in one decade, from the 449.3 million metric tons of milled rice produced in 2010/2011.
This increment in production is principally due to the amplified demand of rice around the globe. Now the top 10 rice exporting countries in the world are India, Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan, United States, China, Burma, Cambodia, Brazil, and Uruguay. At the top of that list is India, which exports 15,500 metric tons of rice. At the bottom, Uruguay, which exports about 780 metric tons of rice. While Nigeria is the largest rice producing country in Africa, it comes nowhere close to Uruguay, which, I repeat, only exports 780 metric tons of rice; this is a frustrating paradox.
When you further look into these reports by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Nigeria ranks 14th among the top rice producers in the entire world with an output rate of about five million metric tons of rice.
Now the four countries at the bottom of the top ten list of rice exporting countries are Burma, Cambodia, Brazil, and Uruguay. While Burma, Brazil and Cambodia, ranked 7th, 11th, and 13th on the USDA list of rice producing countries, Uruguay ranks at 32nd, that is 18 ranks below Nigeria, and yet it made the list of the top 10 rice exporting countries.
Uruguay produces about 879, 000 metric tons of rice in 2020/2021, while Nigeria produced 5.04 million metric tons of rice in the same time frame. That’s a difference of 4.161 million metric tons of rice, and yet Uruguay is able to export 780 metric tons of rice, far more than Nigeria’s exports to its neighbouring countries.
The US, which is 5th on the USDA list, produces only 2.186 million metric tons of rice more than Nigeria, Brazil only produces 2.440 million metric tons of rice more than Nigeria, and Cambodia, the 8th rice exporter in the world only produces 800,000 metric tons of rice more than Nigeria.
These figures make it blatant that the rice production output is not the only determining factor with regards to why any of these countries exports their variety of rice. China, which is the world’s largest producer of rice at about 143.73 million metric tons, ranks 6th in the USDA list of top rice exporters in the world.
It is understandable to consider that currently, we produce and process less than the total amount of rice consumed in Nigeria. While our annual consumption hits about seven million metric tons of rice, we are currently at a capacity of producing five million metric tons. However, the time frame it took us to reach an annual five million metric tons production capacity speaks promisingly on our behalf.
While there is no denying our need to continuously increase our production capacity to meet local demands, considering we are already exporting rice to neighbouring African countries, we must continue to hone our ambition of becoming a leading exporter of rice in the global rice market.
I am not oblivious nor have I forgotten the struggles of encouraging local rice farming and production in Nigeria. It came with its challenges, its frustrations, yet with time, we are reaping the benefits of those government interventions and policies that have brought us here.
The decision by the Nigerian government to place a ban on foreign rice importation in order to boost agriculture and reduce the country’s dependency on foreign imports was met with a lot of criticism. Many traders and consumers criticised the government’s inconsideration of how poor the quality of the locally produced rice was at the time, others criticised the low production capacity of local farmers to meet the growing demand for rice, but many who complained did so because that policy would, as we witnessed, affect their income.
Yet, that single policy pivoted the country’s attention from import dependency on rice, and placed it on local farmers who were to drive the nation into becoming a self-sufficient rice producer. While the government was continually criticised, local rice farmers and millers welcomed the challenge and opportunity. Today, more locally produced rice is consumed in Nigeria than foreign ones. That single policy of border closure and banning of importation of rice in Nigeria was the major determinant of local rice manufacturing revolution in the country; that single decision has helped every rice millers in Nigeria.
Within the decade, we need to promote our specific variety of rice into the global rice market, enough so, that it becomes a global product. And why not? We have proven to have the capacity to realize this, we have access to improved and advanced machinery that will help us achieve this goal, we, as a country already produce more metric tons of rice than some leading rice exporting countries, and most importantly, our product is refined enough to compete with any standard of produced rice from around the globe.
As the global rice market continues to grow, and we must be a part of this growth. This will not only generate revenue for us but will also create more employment opportunities. The global rice market is booming and we must be a part of that growth.
Abubakar Saidu Dansadau is the CEO,Ummita Foods and Beverages Ltd