By Erere Dara
The Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, says it has re-introduced the N10 billion rice farming programme supported by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, into its 2020 budget to boost agriculture and create jobs for the youths in the Niger Delta region.
Speaking after inspecting the multi-million-naira NDDC rice mill at Elele-Alimini, in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State, the Commission’s Acting Executive Director Projects, Dr Cairo Ojougbuh, said that the facility, now under lease to the Elephant Group, had a production capacity of 24 tonnes per hour.
Dr Ojougbuh, who was accompanied by the NDDC Director of Agriculture and Fisheries, Mr Doodei Week, noted that the Commission had proposed to go into rice farming in the Niger Delta region in its 2019 budget.
He stated: “We prepared farmers and they were ready. The CBN guaranteed N10billion support for the project but when the budget got to the National Assembly, the two chairmen of the committees on NDDC removed the N10billion for the project.
“Because of that action, the wet lands of the Niger Delta that would have been booming with rice farming, have been lying fallow. This would have created employment for our women and youths. But the two chairmen of the National Assembly committees preferred the supply of plastic chairs and tables to schools that are non-existent to active and lucrative engagements of the people of the region.”
Ojougboh appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on the National Assembly not to distort the NDDC 2020 budget, so that agricultural programmes that would benefit the people were not truncated.
He regretted that the NDDC budget for 2019 could not achieve the Commission’s target for agricultural development because the provisions the CBN, Anchor-Borrowers Programme were removed.
According to Ojougboh, another programme that suffered was the $129.17 million Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprises Programme in the Niger Delta (LIFE-ND), driven by NDDC in partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD.
He lamented: “The IFAD partnership was removed completely and replaced with ghost training programmes which we refused to be part of. Because of that, they insist that the NDDC Interim Management Committee, IMC, should be removed.”
The Acting Executive Director Projects emphasized the importance of partnership in the process of developing the Niger Delta region, stating that the contributions of the Elephant Group in reviving the Elele rice mill were very encouraging.
The Administration and Station Manager of the Elephant Group, Mr Olabode Ojo, said that the company had spent over N2 billion retrofitting the rice mill to meet the needs of the market, stating: “Currently, we are doing six tonnes per hour but we are increasing this to 12 tonnes per hour. Our target is to be able to process 50 tonnes of paddy per year.
“When we started two years ago, we met a plant that had been abandoned for long and it was built for the kind of rice that is no longer marketable in Nigeria. So, we had to acquire new machines, as well as change some of the ones we met on ground.”
He appealed to the Federal Government and the NDDC to assist the rice mill by encouraging out- grower farmers that would be growing paddy rice in the Niger Delta region. This will create jobs for the youths in the region.
The NDDC rice mill in Elele-Alimini was constructed, completed, test-run and technically commissioned in 2008, before it was leased to the Elephant Group to run for sustainability and efficiency.