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Nigeria's Rice Boom Raises Outputs but Encounters Old Problems

Nigerian Abdulhakim Mohammed has just graduated in architecture but, like many people ranging from unemployed locals to foreign investors and Africa's richest man, he has decided the future lies in rice farming.

The reason is that domestic rice prices have more than doubled in the last two years due to an import ban and a dive in the Nigerian currency. At the same time, the government is subsidising tractors, mills and fertilisers as well as arranging cheaper loans to boost production - with considerable success.

And yet the drive to cut an annual food import bill of $20 billion has run into the kind of problems that have long bedevilled Nigeria's efforts to build up an economy outside its dominant the oil industry.

Despite rice growing being a government priority, many farmers still work with their bare hands in fields lacking irrigation channels. Mills are often ramshackle while poor roads make getting the crop from the main growing areas in northern Nigeria to consumers in the south difficult and costly.

As a result, the industry has so far failed to fill a supply shortfall amounting to about 3 million tonnes of milled rice created by the import ban. In the commercial capital of Lagos, supermarkets mainly sell rice from India or Thailand.

Jeremy Weate

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