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Rice is the most economically important food crop in many developing countries and has also become a major crop in many developed countries where its consumption has increased considerably. It has become necessary to meet the demand of the world’s current population growth rate, and the least costly means for achieving this aim is to increase rice productivity, wherever possible. The main challenges encountered by rice processors in Nigeria are to find appropriate solutions for quality rice processing. Therefore this work provides basic information about the challenges of rice processing and focuses on the challenges faced by the small scale rice processors and reasons for continuous rice importation with a view to guiding decision-making to be self-sufficient in rice production, thereby making some improvement in Nigerian economy.



Rice is the most important staple food for about half of the human race (Hawksworth, 1985). It ranks third after wheat and maize in terms of worldwide production. Rice (Oryza glaberrima Steud) is indigenous to Nigeria and has been cultivated for the past 3 500 years (Hardcastle, 1959). The earliest cultivation of improved rice varieties (O. sativa L.) started in about 1890 with the introduction of upland varieties to the high forest zone in Western Nigeria (Hardcastle, 1959; Atanda et al., 1978). Consequently, by 1960 O. sativa had taken over from O. glaberrima, which is now limited to some deep-flooded plains of the Sokoto-Rima river basin and other isolated pockets of deep swamps all over the country (Atanda et al., 1978., Imolehin, 1991a). With expansion of the cultivated land area to rice, there has been a steady increase in rice production and consumption in Nigeria. The production increase has, however, not been enough to meet the consumption demand of the rapidly growing urban population, who has a great preference for parboiled rice (Singh et al., 1997). This situation led to acute demand for parboiled rice in the 1990s, which contrasted with Nigeria's self-sufficiency in rice during the 1960s.

The 360 000 tonnes of rice produced in the 1960s was enough to meet local demand, but the 1.45 million tonnes produced in the 1990s was not (IRRI, 1991; 1995). Thus, importation of rice rose from 7 000 tonnes in the 1960s to 657 000 tonnes in the 1990s (IRRI, 1991; 1995). This created a serious drain on Nigeria's foreign exchange reserve, which stood at US$407.5 million in the 1960s but dropped to US$58 million in the 1990s (IRRI, 1991). The drain on the foreign reserve led the Nigerian Government to ban rice imports in October 1985.

As well as banning rice imports, other government policies since 1974 were aimed at encouraging and boosting local rice production. Specific programmes include: the National Accelerated Food Production project (NAFPP), set up in 1974; the World Bank-Assisted Development Programmes, set up in 1975; Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), started in 1976; the River Basin Development Authorities (RBDs), established in 1977; the Back to Land Programme (BLP) and the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructures (DFRRI), both introduced in 1988; and, more recently, the National Land Development Authority (NALDA), dating from 1995.

In spite of these programmes, local rice production has not kept up with the domestic consumption demands of the Nigerian populace and, consequently, rice is still imported (Singh et al., 1997). Inconsistent government policy on rice imports has seriously affected local production. Nigerian farmers reacted to the ban on rice imports in 1985 by starting to prepare and use their fields for rice cultivation, but imported rice was soon back on the market because of another government policy that liberalized rice imports in 1997. This led to another drop in local rice production.


Total water requirements and specific water use (m3/ha) for rice production under different ecologies can be roughly estimated on average (evapotranspiration 550-950 mm/crop, which is the water actually consumed by the plant) at:

- rainfed upland rice: 5500 m3/ha (evapotranspiration only) for 1.25 t/ha specific water use: 6.5 m3/kg

- rainfed lowland rice: 10,000 m3/ha (evapotranspiration + impounded rainwater) for 2.5 t/ha specific water use: 4.0 m3/kg

- irrigated upland rice: 10,000 m3/ha (evapotranspiration + supplementary irrigation) for 2.5 t/ha specific water use: 4.0 m3/kg

- irrigated lowland/deepwater rice: 16,500 m3/ha (evapotranspiration and full irrigation) for 4.5 t/ha specific water use: 3.7 m3/kg

Irrigated lowland is at the same time the dominant ecosystem, the most productive in terms of yields and specific water use (the most water productive), but also the least efficient if one considers water use per cultivated ha or the amount of water required for evapotranspiration divided by the amount of water diverted into the system.

Research, with some reason, has concentrated in the past on this ecology where the greatest potential gains could be achieved per ha and globally. Early research focused on ways to improve water productivity by developing improved varieties and improving agronomic management, then more recently on improving water use efficiency, and finally on improving water productivity (which considers yields or income per m3 of water consumed) at all levels.

Irrigation inflow requirements (the amount of water diverted into the system) can be subdivided into crop evapotranspiration (T), evaporation (E), seepage and percolation losses (S and P), and surface run off (SRO). Because quantities of water required for land preparation and soaking as well as for maintaining water level in the paddy fields and soil saturation are high, T may represent only a small portion of irrigation inflow requirements and therefore overall (system) irrigation efficiency or (farm) water use efficiency are typically quite low (in the range of 30 to 40 percent).

Typically, parts of seepage and percolation losses as well as surface runoff can be re-used, i.e., recycled within the system (RCL). Attention has focused more recently on the fate of seepage and percolation and runoff. If this water is reused within the system (recycling drainage water or with conjunctive use) for agriculture or other uses, or returned to the hydrological cycle for further use downstream for productive use, then this water cannot be considered as lost. In the upstream part of the river basin, reducing these “losses” might only result in dry or paper savings and in disturbing the established hydrological regime (reducing groundwater re-charge, affecting downstream users etc.). Further downstream, wherever this water flows into sinks (i.e., cannot be reused), flows into the sea or is too polluted or salinized to be reused, then, attempts at reducing these losses or recycling them within the system would result in real or wet water savings. Indeed, it may be argued that paddy fields perform similar hydrological functions to wetlands for groundwater re-charge, flood control and trapping silt, which could be valued. Some authors have even suggested that farmers might be subsidized to practice inefficient irrigation practices for groundwater re-charge.

In any case, it is now widely accepted that:

- A river basin perspective should be adopted with much more attention being paid to defining the boundaries of intervention (farm, system, basin). Substantial progress has been made in defining concepts and methodologies (water accounting, modeling, etc.) but available data, which are already woefully inadequate to assess the merit of interventions at the farm or system level, water abstraction and even cultivated and irrigated areas, are even more lacking for the adoption of integrated river basin approaches.

- More attention must be paid to water quality issues and particularly the release of pollutants (fertilizers and other agro-chemicals) and salt concentration.

Nevertheless, practices which minimize irrigation inflow are of a direct interest to farmers, who see their water supply rationed and have to pay an increasing share of its cost; to managers and developers, who also face rationing because of degradation of water resources, dam siltation, transfer to other sectors, etc. and therefore have an interest in minimizing pumping costs, and operation and maintenance as well as development costs; and also to water resources managers who need to plan future irrigation developments with minimum environmental impact from withdrawals or reservoirs. In addition, many major rice growing areas are located in coastal plains. Furthermore, water saving practices, which require greater water control, typically are associated with or part of packages to improve agronomic practices and the efficiency of use of other inputs, and therefore play an important role in total factor productivity.

They therefore contribute to increasing not only water use or irrigation efficiency but also to improving or sustaining water productivity. Indeed, water management methods which improve water use efficiency have been developed with a view to maintaining crop yields and actually, when implemented properly, lead to yield increases (in the range of 15-20 percent in China for intermittent flooding and other methods). It follows that, although it is correct and necessary to use rigorous concepts for efficiency and performance at system and basin levels, and to determine under various conditions the optimum combination of improved technologies and water management practices that can meet water demand with least water consumed and managing return flows to ensure system and basin level efficiency, in practice it is difficult to find water management techniques proposed for adoption at the farm level which do not simultaneously raise irrigation efficiency and water productivity.

Nigeria, along with many countries across the world, has ecologies that are suitable for different rice varieties and that can be harnessed to boost rice production to meet domestic demands, and even to produce a surplus for export (Anonymous, 1997a). The country has a potential land area for rice production of between 4.6 million and 4.9 million ha. However, only 1.7 million ha, or 35 percent of Nigeria's total land mass, is cropped to rice. The cultivable land to rice is spread over five major ecologies - upland, inland or shallow swamp, irrigated rice, deep water or floating rice, and tidal mangrove or swamp. The latter is not fully developed because there is a lack of appropriate technology (Singh et al., 1997). In spite of the presence of suitable environments, however, Nigeria is not among the leading world rice producers. This article highlights problems that could help to explain the imbalance between rice production and consumption. It also suggests areas of improvement that would boost local rice production to meet domestic demand.

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