Dr Olabisi Awoniyi is in charge of the Directorate of Agriculture, Lower Niger River Basin Authority, Ilorin (covering Kwara and Kogi states). He spoke with FEMI IBIROGBA on challenges that the country should resolve to boost rice production and value chain development as some land borders are closed and the product becomes more expensive. Excerpts:
The Federal Government has closed some porous borders, preventing food and other imports. Are we really prepared for rice production, processing, and supply?
I will say no. We are not prepared because there are things we have to prepare before doing that. Let us start with seeds. Can we really depend on our seed companies to supply reliable seeds? I once consulted for a client and we had planted 100 hectares of rice before we discovered that almost half of the bags were filled with shafts. We had wasted money on seeds, land preparation, planting, chemicals, spraying, and all those things. The seed itself is a factor if we are going to have bumper harvests.
That apart, are the farmers aware that we have different kinds of seeds? We have upland and lowland rice seeds. I have seen farmers who planted 2,000 hectares of upland rice with lowland seeds. Definitely, the yield was negatively affected. So, we need to do a lot of seeds that we plant.
Africa Rice Centre says it has breeder and foundation seeds to be multiplied. What is the problem that seed companies cannot get quality seed multiplication right? Is seed multiplication an issue, and how can we resolve the seed crisis?
Multiplication should not be an issue at the level we are in Nigeria, but for you to do seed multiplication, there must be the distance between seed multiplication farms and other rice farms around. But except in some localised places of big farms, you can hardly control what the next-door farmer would plant on his field. And the cross will affect the quality of the seed because of cross-pollination. Multiplication should not be a problem, but it is.
We have multiplied seeds for a particular seed company, but unfortunately, the farm was destroyed by herders. When I got there, the herders said they would pay. But the challenge was not payment, but the type of seed. They were foundational seeds that were destroyed.
Last year, we did some multiplication for the University of Ilorin. The farm was also destroyed by herders. All we could harvest was a handful, which we had to plant in the greenhouse to retain the foundation.
How can we go about seed multiplication as a condition for rice production and value chain development?
To solve the problem of rice production looking at the seed aspect, I think we should educate the rice farmers, especially where we intend to multiply foundational seeds. Let them cooperate with the scientists and they can even offer to multiply the improved seed varieties on their farms.
Do you think the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) is doing enough in regulating the seed subsector?
I may not be able to evaluate their performance, because there could be challenges. Do they have enough staff to go round the seed companies? Do they have the logistics to monitor the multiplication processes? They have to go to the multiplication fields at different stages. We have to consider these factors. But they have to do more. They are doing their best, but it is not good enough.
Now that the borders are closed, home production is not enough and the price is going up, how can farmers rev up production?
The government should do more in empowering the river basin authorities in the country which are the custodians of irrigation facilities. River basins have larger parcels of land, but some of the irrigation facilities are obsolete. The basins need improved models of irrigation facilities.
Do you buy into the idea of each state developing irrigation facilities?
Yes, I do. That will go a long way in helping to boost not only rice production but also other crops. The dry season can also be utilised for rice production with irrigation.