A few days ago, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu inaugurated two Rice Mills, one at Uzuakoli in Bende LGA and the other at Acha in Isuikwuato LGA. These were part of the media tour organized by the Abia State Government where Journalists were taken round some ongoing and completed project sites to see things for themselves.
In the record of rice producing states in Nigeria, Abia hasn’t featured prominently over the years despite the fact that there are several communities in the state, especially in Abia North who are predominantly rice farmers. In Local Government Areas like Bende and Isuikwuato, there are places where their major business is rice farming and this is not a new development. These people have been cultivating rice from time immemorial. In Acha, Isuikwuato LGA, rice farming is the major business of the local women there. Statistics show that 65% of the women from that community engage in rice farming. There are many other communities like that.
So how come that Abia doesn’t feature when rice producing states are considered even by the Federal Government?
The reason is simple.
For several decades, there have been no rice mills in Abia State. For purposes of statistics, rice production is calculated at the point of milling. This is because what really counts for statistics purposes is the actual quantity of rice which is ready for the market and this can only be obtained after the rice is milled.
Milling of rice is done at Rice Mills and it is the process of transforming the rice paddies which comes from the farms into the final edible rice. The process, also, at times, involves de- stoning which involves the separation of little stone particles from the real rice.
So, because there were no rice mills in Abia State, when these our local rice farmers harvest, they carry their rice paddies to neighboring states where there are rice mills. These rural farmers bear the prohibitive cost of transportation to and from the mills. Ebonyi, our sister State has been a major beneficiary here and it is not their fault that we don’t have rice mills in Abia State.
The implication is that the quantum of rice production recorded for Ebonyi State includes rice cropped and harvested in Abia communities, because that’s where they are milled.
The situation has brought great frustration to these rice farmers. At Acha, one of the women told me that she had, on several occasions, been forced to sell her rice at Ebonyi State at a give away price because she could not afford the cost of transport back home.
This was the situation before Ikpeazu decided to intervene.
By December 2016, when government wanted to buy rice in large quantities for the Christmas, and insisted on buying our local Nigerian rice, there was nowhere in Abia where we could find rice grown in Abia in large quantities.
So what happened to all the rice grown in Abia?
It would be a great disservice to the efforts and sweats of these Abia rice farmers for them to work so hard all year round, toil on rice farms, harvest them and carry the harvested rice paddies to other states who now take the credit.
This was what propelled Governor Okezie Ikpeazu into setting up small rice mills in rice producing communities to, at least, provide these farmers a viable alternative to the stress of moving their rice paddies to other states and spending so much on transport which, most times, wipe off their profit margin.
The negative reactions from some people on the size of the mills are fueled by ignorance or mischief or both. The size of the mills are of no moment at all. What is critical is that a major problem that has faced our local farmers has been solved and the farmers are happy and grateful.
Ikpeazu’s intervention isn’t just about the rice mills. He had gone a step further by causing the state government to purchase a high yield brand of rice seedlings for distribution to rice farmers, free of charge. The Governor went to Calabar and got the new and improved seedlings.
For the very first time in our history here, we have a Governor who has given this kind of support to rice farmers in the state. From free new and high yield rice seedlings to the setting up of small rice mills in rice farming communities, we can truly beat our chest and call Abia a RICE PRODUCING STATE.
Again, we are not in any competition with anyone or any state, we simply want to make life easier for our rice farmers, and ensure that there is indeed something called ABIA RICE, cultivated, harvested and milled in Abia State.
A foundation has been laid and we can only build on what Ikpeazu has done. The Abia Rice Industry will grow and when that time comes, the world will remember who took the bulls by the horns and laid the foundation.
Currently, we now have four of these mills in these communities and the Governor’s plan is to instal at least one mill for each community that cultivates rice.
Irrespective of the size of the mills, a brand new value chain has been created. The mills will provide jobs for people. An average mill employs between 25 and 30 persons. Unlike what obtained in the past, there shall be new markets for Abia rice within the state. I am aware that they have secured a space within the premises of Abia Transport in Umuahia which will serve as a Depot while plans are on to set up another in Aba. These depots will be manned by people who will earn salaries.
Again, what Ikpeazu has done will open new business lines in Abia State. Discerning businessmen and women will likely construct small rice mills in these communities that cultivate rice and charge fees for their services. I foresee a situation where in the nearest future, there will be a competition amongst rice mills in these communities.
Banks are watching the situation closely and will be more than prepared to give loans to those who want to invest in these areas.
For the uninformed and ignorant critics, most of whom live in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and even abroad, who laugh at our rice mills, and compare them with what they see in the cities where they live, we have one message for them…
IKPEAZU’S RICE REVOLUTION HAS STARTED.
Those fellows can laugh on. We enjoy the new laughter of our local rice farmers better than theirs.
Ururuaja writes from Ukwuapu, near Umule.