The Ikpeazu Rice Revolution: Understanding the real issues

October 14th, 2019

By Onyebuchi Ememanka

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…

*Ememanka is the Chief Press Secretary to the Abia State Governor

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