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Nigerian rice farmers fall short after borders close - REUTERS

JANUARY 24, 2020

Thomas Tyavwva Maji - like many other rice farmers and millers - is struggling to take advantage of rising prices in Nigeria.

He's planting more rice than ever but a lack of machinery or irrigation, limited manual labor and no spare cash for fertilizers mean there's a limit to what he can achieve.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) RICE FARMER, THOMAS TYAWWA MAJI, SAYING:

"We don't have tractor, we have not been accessing fertilizer, we have not been accessing chemicals and all that, even the harvester we have not been accessing, so our production is very low, but if those things are provided we will have a bumper harvest."

It's a similar story across Nigeria's paddy fields, leaving the country's average yield per hectare at just over two tons - half the global average.

That's a problem for the government which wants to boost the country's agriculture, a sector that accounts for nearly a third of GDP.

President Muhammadu Buhari's mission to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice has seen imports banned across land borders, and hit with hefty tariffs in ports.

Last year, land borders were closed altogether to stamp out smuggling.

The government claims success, saying rice production is up from 7.2 million tons in 2015 to 9.2 million last year.

But agricultural data specialist Gro Intelligence disagrees. It puts output at 4.9 million tons.

At Wurukum Rice Mill in Makurdi, Iveren Asan says new buyers have surfaced since the borders were closed but that she's struggling to produce more.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) RICE MILLER, IVEREN ASAN, SAYING:

"We can't meet the demand because we are doing some of the processes manually so we cannot meet the demand."

Her income has increased, but not by enough to buy new machines.

With demand outstripping supply, a 50kg bag now costs nearly double what it did in July, meaning it is Nigerian consumers - who typically spend upwards of 70% of their incomes on food - who are feeling the squeeze.

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