Faced with just N500million monthly to address the challenges of governance, infrastructure and other capital projects, Ebonyi State government had no choice but to redirect the people to the farms as a survival strategy in this recession period. The state commissioner for Information, Senator Emmanuel Onwe took journalists down the route of the rice farms revival efforts.
The beginning of the rice revolution
It’s been such a great narrative about how Nigeria needs to diversify its economy. We took that to heart. Ebonyi has nothing else going for it other than allocation from the centre and we realise that allocation from centre is dwindling. In the month of April, Ebonyi got only N450m There was a time Ebonyi used to receive N6b. Former governor, Martin Elechi had an average income of N5.5b throughout the period of eight years he was in power. That is verifiable. The current government has an average of N2.1bn and of that; N1.6bn goes to overheads, subvention to universities, Colleges of Education, general hospitals and so on.
Incidentally, we have a governor who is very interested in infrastructure given the fact that he is an engineer. But beyond being an engineer, Abakaliki hasn’t had a capital until the current effort that is being made. In the last 18 months, he has constructed about 250km of roads within the urban areas. But it quickly dawned on us that allocations might end tomorrow and if it did, Ebonyi is one of those states identified as probably not viable once allocation ends. Because of our peculiar history, the possibility of returning to a situation whereby Ebonyi is part of a larger political entity where nothing happens in that section and those here from the South- East will probably understand that Ebonyi basically has been the weeping child of the South East since the period we had Eastern region.
So, one of the fascinating stuff that happened was that there was a troubling headline about the governor of Ebonyi and EFCC recently. I chose to ignore that until there is this other headline that a bag of rice sells for N8,000 in Ebonyi state. That is true in one sense depending on the type of rice and the stage of processing you are talking about. If it is unprocessed rice because when the CBN Governor and the Chairman of Presidential Task Force on Rice Production and the Minister of Agriculture visited Ebonyi last week, they went to a very large farm complex, which is basically the centrepiece of Ebonyi rice production. The local farmers made a case that with the assistance of the Anchor Borrower Scheme that the CBN is doing, Ebonyi was able to borrow certain amount of money and gave to farmers by way of inputs like fertilizers, herbicides and grains. They said rice is now moving from N5, 000 to N8,000 per bag. He was talking about unprocessed paddy rice, which will normally yield eight barns.
In Ebonyi, state, the price is between N6,500 to N9,000. Two of those will make 50kg. 50kg of rice from Ebonyi is between N13,000 and N18,000 depending on the quality. We wanted to follow up on that. It happens that right now, we are harvesting. Ebonyi is making the largest proportion of its harvest of rice since history. That was possible because the government borrowed N2b from CBN, bought about 50 tractors and gave to Cooperative Societies and individuals who have the capacity to produce. I own a rice farm of about 100 hectares, which I am also harvesting right now. The challenge was to break the jinx of not being able to harvest up to 4,5,6 metric tonnes of rice per hectare. We are doing that right now which is why I’m confident that by the end of harvest season this year, Ebonyi would have reached the mass of production that will satisfy local needs. If we are successful in the dry season farming we are trying to embark on from December to April, we would have satisfied local needs and then be able to saturate selected markets in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja with Ebonyi rice. One positive thing today is that Ebonyi rice, which used to be called Stoneville or Stonefest, has changed. If you eat Ebonyi rice today and you encounter stone in the rice, then forget about it.
Relationship between Ebonyi and Kebbi rice production
Across the country, Kebbi state is doing extremely well. Kebbi state is a very large state in terms of its landmass and its potentials. The difficulty they have is a very limited rainfall, which is about 2.5mm of rainfall. In Ebonyi, we have about 4mm; but Ebonyi is only about 4,500 square kilometers while for a state like Kebbi, it is up to 18,000 square kilometers. This means Ebonyi can fit into Kebbi state three, four times. Therefore, they have a much larger disposable and cultivable land for rice.
But I think the advantage we have is our rice does not require much of fertilizer.
You may have seen some news spreading in the social network about some people in China using plastic to produce pellets as rice. How true that is, I have no idea but the truth is most of the rice imported to Nigeria has been in storage for about 10 years. Such rice cannot be good for local consumption. Ebonyi has the record of being the only state in this country to produce organic rice. The price may be premium but why spend money buying food supplements when actually you can eat healthy? That is why Ebonyi state governor has banned the sale and consumption of foreign rice.
Impact on employment drive in the state
Very positive. I will use a personal experience. I use a combination of mechanisation and direct labour on my farm. From the process of clearing the bush, tilling the land, transplanting and broadcasting of rice, application of fertilisers and the harvesting, which are ongoing now. But above all, we concentrated in employing local labour to do that. As at last week Friday, 3,000 people have worked on my farm and that has happened across all the farms in Ebonyi state, including the governor’s own farm. Every member of the Ebonyi state cabinet has at least two hectares of rice farm. It was made compulsory. All portions of land that were lying fallow were distributed to cabinet members and that was to give impetus to all citizens to buy into the idea of rice cultivation because if the governor is doing it, if the commissioners are doing it, then there should be no reason why everybody else is not doing it. Youth unemployment is being reduced.
N250,000 was made available for about 7,000 youths and women to participate by way of soft loans through the N2b loan that the state government got from CBN at an interest of about nine percent. The government has taken responsibility of paying the nine percent. The CBN economics of rice production is N248, 000 per hectare. So, we gave N250,000 per farmer. The additional money on top of the N250, 000 is for ongoing maintenance because rice production is a very tedious process. You have to clear the bush. You have to till the bush. You have to do a nursery where you first broadcast rice that you transplanted on the field after tilling it. Then, you weed. After that you apply NPK fertiliser. After two weeks, you apply Urea fertiliser. You weed again and then you ensure that you take measures to prevent pest, especially birds. Then you harvest and thresh and bag. After that you parboil. The parboiling process is one of the most convoluted processes one can think about. You put quantity of rice in a big drum overnight. The next day you pour it out and then put it in the same drum. This time, you do not fill it with water until the steam comes out. Then you dry it, bag it again. You then take it to the processing mill where ultimately the chaffs are removed and you have your grain rice. That is so labour intensive. By the time you’ve done all of that, at least 20 people will be involved in the processing of 100kg of rice.
We don’t have farmer’s congress. Farmer’s congress is just another bureaucratic organ that will completely kill the whole thing. It is like a trade union. But we have Cooperative Societies. In every ward, we have at least 10 Cooperative Societies. It’s a good policy the CBN set up; that is they can only disburse funds to Cooperative Societies. The maximum is 25 farmers per cooperatives. We have more than 200 farmers’ cooperative societies in Ebonyi.
Agriculture is the flagship of this administration’s agenda. We have nothing else. If we don’t do this, we’ll sink. It is a swim and sink situation for Ebonyi.
IMF Queries FG Strategies On Fuel Subsidy, Unemployment, Inflation
The International Monetary Fund has raised the red flag over Nigeria’s resumption of petrol subsidy payments, describing it as injurious to the economy.
It also reiterated the importance of introducing a market-based fuel pricing mechanism and deployment of well-targeted social safety nets to cushion any adverse impact on the poor.
In a report produced after a virtual meeting with Nigerian authorities from June 1 to 8, the IMF also expressed concerns over the rising unemployment and inflation rates, even as it admitted that real Gross Domestic Product was recovering.
The IMF team, led by Jesmin Rahman, further hailed the Central Bank of Nigeria for its efforts at unifying the exchange rate by embracing needed reforms.
The Fund said: “Recent exchange rate measures are encouraging, and further reforms are needed to achieve a fully unified and market-clearing exchange rate.
“The resurfacing of fuel subsidies is concerning, particularly in the context of low revenue mobilisation.
“The Nigerian economy has started to gradually recover from the negative effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Following sharp output contractions in the second and third quarters, GDP growth turned positive in Q4 2020 and growth reached 0.5 percent (y/y) in Q1 2021, supported by agriculture and services sectors.
“Nevertheless, the employment level continues to fall dramatically and, together with other socio-economic indicators, is far below pre-pandemic levels. Inflation slightly decelerated in May but remained elevated at 17.9 percent, owing to high food price inflation. With the recovery in oil prices and remittance flows, the strong pressures on the balance of payments have somewhat abated, although imports are rebounding faster than exports and foreign investor appetite remains subdued resulting in continued FX shortage.
“The incipient recovery in economic activity is projected to take root and broaden among sectors, with GDP growth expected to reach 2.5 percent in 2021. Inflation is expected to remain elevated in 2021, but likely to decelerate in the second half of the year to reach about 15.5 percent, following the removal of border controls and the elimination of base effects from elevated food price levels.”
The IMF also recognised that tax revenue collections were gradually recovering but noted that with fuel subsidies resurfacing, additional spending for COVID-19 vaccines and to address security challenges, the fiscal deficit of the Consolidated Government is expected to remain elevated at 5.5 percent of GDP.
Nigeria-South Africa Trade Hits $2.9bn
The volume of trade between Nigeria and South Africa hit $2.9 billion last year with expectation of it rising further with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
Nigeria’s Consul General, Malik Abdul, in a statement noted that Nigeria accounts for 64 per cent of South Africa’s trade in West Africa and is one of his country’s top three sources of crude oil.
He further added that in 2020, South Africa imported R35 billion ($2.48 billion) worth of goods, predominantly crude oil from Nigeria and exported R6 billion ($425milion) to Nigeria.
He stated: “South Africa is currently among the top 10 per cent of investors in Nigeria, globally and Nigeria is South Africa’s 10th biggest export market in Africa and thirty-second globally. Nigeria accounts for 64 per cent of South Africa’s trade with West Africa and is one of South Africa’s top three sources of crude oil.
“Also, Nigeria in 2020 was South Africa’s top import market in Africa and sixth globally, after China, Germany, USA, India and Saudi Arabia. Over the past year, South Africa imported $2.48 billion worth of goods predominantly crude oil from Nigeria and exported $425 million worth to Nigeria.”
Also, the consulate said his embassy issued a total of 10,341 passports to Nigerian citizens in South Africa between March 2020 and May 2021.
The consul general further said the Mission had 404 unclaimed passports, and advised all those whose passports were processed and pending from August 2020 to come for collection.
Abdul added that the consulate was working to clear all COVID-19 lockdown backlog of applications, urging members of the public to exercise patience while the mission was resolving the backlogs.
On the re-introduction of administrative fees and charges for lost passports, Abdul said that the step was taken to harmonise and standardise consular services following approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja.
The Mission had increased the fees for lost passports from R1,500 to R2,000, and admin charges of R120 for data capturing.
“On this issue, the Mission could not unilaterally impose any charges without headquarters’ approval or consent.
“The admin fees of R120 pertains to all services rendered by the two Missions,” he said.
According to the Nigerian envoy, the decision was taken to remove disparities in all consular services, noting that visa fees have also been harmonised.
On penalty for lost passports, Abdul disclosed that 484 Nigerian passports were reported missing at the mission between August 2020 and May 2021 with request for re-issue.
Abdul said it was discovered that there were criminal undertones and immigration rules infractions associated with the ‘so-called’ lost passport declarations.
“In line with practice in other Missions, there was a need to impose fines to deter people from engaging in such infractions.
“At such an astronomical rate of loss declarations, the option will be to refer such losses to Nigeria for processing.
“This will save the booklet for genuine requests of re-issue and thereby reducing the backlog and pressure on the Mission,” the envoy said.
Abdul disclosed that the consulate had received a directive to embargo processing of lost passports pending further instructions from the headquarters.
The consul general then accused some Nigerian groups in South Africa of, “peddling lies and outright falsehoods” against the Mission and his person.
“These disgruntled elements have gone ahead to incite fellow Nigerians with intent to sabotage the Mission.
“Moreover, a lie and falsehoods often repeated amounts to a propaganda which can be misinterpreted by the gullible and undiscerning as truth,” he said.
NNPC Engages Gas Producers to Improve Power Supply
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has started engaging gas producers across the country in an effort to boost gas supply to power generation companies (Gencos) and subsequently improve electricity supply.
Mr. Yusuf Usman, the Chief Operating Officer, Gas and Power, NNPC, disclosed this in Lagos during his tour of Egbin Power Plc facility on Monday.
Usman, who responded to concerns raised by the Chairman of Egbin Power Plc, Mr. Temitope Shonubi, said the company’s concern on gas supply and transmission restrictions had been noted, adding that the corporation would support it to ensure constant power supply.
“I have listened to all the concerns you raised. An area of concern to me is when you talked about the gas constraints. We are going to support you to make sure that the power supply is steady. We are having a session with gas suppliers in this regard.
“I am aware that works are ongoing in this regard to ensure that all the power we generate is safely evacuated,” Usman said.
Usman, however, said he was impressed by the level of progress being recorded by Egbin, noting that the effort of the company’s management to effect turnaround maintenance at the company through overhaul of the entire system, was commendable.
Usman added: “The visit has been an eye opener for me. We have seen turbines that have been running for over 40 years. We have seen efforts being made by Egbin management to effect a turnaround at the plant through overhaul of the entire system.
“We have also seen the support you have been given to the youths through employment and capacity development opportunities.”
Shonubi, in his remarks, said Egbin Power was planning to increase power generation by 1,900 megawatt.
Shonubi said: “Egbin has 1,320MW capacity. As at the time we took over, the plant was generating 300MW which is abysmal 22 per cent. As at today, our generation capacity has surged and we do 89 per cent.
“We have reached the highest peak of 970MW and we are working hard to ensure sustainability of this feat.
“The 970MW we hit is the highest recorded this year and based on our core value of sustainability, we are working round the clock to make sure that we sustain the gains, which we have made.”
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