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Rice at Christmas: Thanks to recession



The boom in rice production in some states of the federation is a pointer that Nigeria could be self-sufficient in rice production and also be a net exporter of the commodity if only the authorities could put the right framework and mobilise the people. The failure to do the right thing has held the country down. Agriculture, which should be the backbone of the economy, was relegated to the background in favour of oil export. The result is food scarcity and massive importation of foods from abroad. But thanks to the recession, which is turning things around, and making rice available at affordable price.

With Christmas around the corner, the boost in rice production in Ebonyi, Lagos/Kebbi and Anambra states is cherry news. Lagos and Kebi states are working on a joint agricultural project to produce rice, wheat, groundnuts and sorghum. The effort of these states has made the otherwise unaffordable rice affordable. The economic recession has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Without recession, these states would not have taken proactive measures that are now boosting food production.

When recently the Ebonyi State Government banned the sale and consumption of foreign rice in the state, it sounded like a joke. Some thought that the government was flying a kite or probably toying with an impossible idea. Some may have even felt that the pronouncement would soon die down, for after all, this is Nigeria where government is inconsistent and hardly enforces its laws. Besides, moneybags could sway and buy it over. After all, this is not the first time that government would ban foreign rice and yet it is everywhere. How could small Ebonyi State do what the Federal Government could not do? But the will makes the way. The Ebonyi authorities stamped their feet on the ground and mobilised forces to enforce the ban.

Most likely, those who had stockpiled foreign rice in Abakaliki, the state capital, with the aim of reaping a windfall at Christmas may have reacted like the proverbial bedbug. An old woman poured hot water on her bedbug infested mattress and the bedbug told her children to remain calm because whatever is hot will certainly cool down. The ban on foreign rice in Ebonyi came like a bombshell. With a 50kg bag of rice selling for N20,000, greedy rice merchants may have calculated the fortune they were about to make amid the recession biting hard on Nigerians.

Truth was that none of the expectations or thoughts of people against the ban materialised. The Ebonyi ban quickly received a strong support from the Federal Government, which re-enforced it, even as the state Governor, David Umahi, reaffirmed his determination to enforce the ban.

From all indications, Ebonyi, which is the first state in Nigeria to ban foreign rice, has succeeded in keeping the imported rice out of its markets and replaced it with the local Ebonyi Rice, which is accessible and affordable. The Ebonyi paddy rice reportedly sells for N8,000 while the processed rice sells from N14,000.

In the same vein, the Lagos State Government, the other day, announced that it was rolling out its Lake Rice from December 15, at a cost of N13,000 per bag. The Lake Rice, coined from LAgos and KEbbi, the two states that jointly produce the rice, again, is a novel project in Nigeria, involving two states.

Last July, the Lagos State Government announced that it was entering into a joint rice production with Kebbi State to produce 70 per cent of Nigeria’s rice demand to effectively shut out importation. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two states on the Commodity Value Chain development was signed in Lagos.

Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode said Lagos and Kebbi states were entering into a partnership of food production, processing and distribution. He said Lagos has the required purchasing power with estimated consumption of 798,000 metric tonnes of milled rice per year, which is equivalent to 15.96 million of 50kg bags with a value of N135 billion. Accordingly, Lagos State has reportedly installed a modern rice milling plant at Imota to process the rice. Ambode said the reality now is for Nigerians to embrace the consumption of local foods and commodities.

The Anambra State Government has since joined the league of rice producing states that are out to make importation of the product a thing of the past. Governor Willie Obiano has embarked on a vibrant agricultural revolution, designed to make the state self-sufficient in food production as well as have the surplus for export.

To this end, the state has embarked on mechanised farming to produce rice in surplus. Under the venture, the state has become a major rice producer gearing to surpass 320,000 metric tonnes. The Anambra rice brand is reportedly stone free and competes favourably with foreign brands that suck Nigeria’s foreign exchange.

From the look of things, the renewed interest and commitment by states to produce rice among other agricultural products is encouraging. There is reason to believe that aggressive food production could lift Nigeria out of the current economic quagmire.

The high cost of imported rice and other food items is a self-inflicted punishment. There is no state in Nigeria that cannot produce rice and other food products in abundance to satisfy local production and have surplus for export.

Unfortunately, maladministration and greed have robbed Nigeria of the great opportunity. What would happen if every state rolls out rice for sell? The other day, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri, said the Niger Delta alone could feed the entire West Africa sub-region and challenged the people to take farming seriously. He challenged their overdependence on oil.

It is noteworthy that the ban on foreign rice in Ebonyi State succeeded because there is a ready alternative, which is the Ebonyi Rice. Over the years, the Federal Government has been banning rice importation without success because there was no local alternative. The other day, the Nigeria Customs banned the importation of rice through the land borders, which has not worked either.

The only way to stop importation of foreign rice is to flood the markets with local rice. Once that is done, it would be foolhardy for anyone to import rice anymore. The boom in local rice during this Christmas is a good omen, which Nigerians should endeavour to sustain.

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