It’s likely that few Nigerians have actually visited the sleepy town of Ofada in the southwestern state of Ogun. But when they hear the name Ofada, they immediately link it with the Ofada rice enjoyed by many in Nigeria and beyond.
Ofada is the generic name used to describe all rice produced and processed in the rice-producing clusters of southwest Nigeria. But the rice produced in this area might soon be only a memory. The rice farmers of Ofada are gradually abandoning the crop because of increasing urbanization, and a lack of quality planting materials and good markets.
Taoreed Sowewimo is a farmer in Ofada who was born into a rice-producing family and has been growing the crop for 30 years. He says many people are losing access to land because of rapid urbanization. Many families see no reason to grow rice on land that will earn them little or nothing when they can make millions by selling the land to housing developers.
Mr. Sowewimo says: “The youths are not interested in cultivating farming because they see it as [a] road to poverty, so you find them putting pressure on their parents to sell their lands to developers for housing purposes.” Apart from access to land, he pointed to the lack of quality seeds, machinery, credit facilities, and markets as problems for rice farmers.
He says: “I used to cultivate between 7 and 10 hectares of land for rice, but because of lack of quality seeds and the stress of harvesting—not to talk of poor marketing—I have reduced my size of land.”
John Obadare also grows rice and is a friend of Mr. Sowewimo. He says that farmers lack proper drying facilities, forcing them to dry their rice on bare ground, which contaminates it with stones and lowers the quality.
Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest rice producer, plans to raise production to 300,000 metric tonnes a year. Such a boost would reduce rice imports by an estimated 15 per cent and cut import costs by $342 million a year.
Mr. Victor Eburajolo is the Deputy Managing Director of the Kewalram Chanrai Group and the Director of Spring Field Agro Limited. He thinks local rice can generate huge foreign exchange for the country if rice farmers use better farming practices. He says that, with access to improved inputs, rice farmers can increase production and help make the country self-sufficient in food. His organization is partnering with RiceCo to produce fertilizer and hybrid seeds for rice.
Pinky Ghosh is the International Operations Director for RiceCo. She says that farmers are not making enough money from growing rice because they are not using quality seeds and farm inputs. She says improved varieties are the key to bigger farm incomes.
The Nigerian government recently announced a sum of one billion dollars to boost local rice production and reduce rice imports.
Mr. Sowemimo and Mr. Obadare say that they are familiar with several initiatives that didn’t result in success. Mr. Sowewimo says farmers have joined co-operative societies, hoping to benefit from government programs. But this has been unsuccessful, he says, because farmers must bribe local government officials to assist them with harvesters. He adds, “The cost of [the] pesticides they use to spray the rice for disease control is expensive.”
Both farmers agree that, based on their experiences in Ofada and the surrounding area, small-scale rice farmers will find it difficult to contribute to Nigeria’s quest for self-sufficiency in rice, and the need for rice imports will continue for years to come.
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