Umahi...changing the Ebonyi story

‎Amidst the growing despondency in the land, the Governor David Umahi leadership in Ebonyi State is providing a positive intervention with its stride in food security. Shola Oyeyipo writes

Today, Nigerians and governments at all levels are confronted with a stark reality; it has become absolutely impossible to remain dependent on oil revenue and this is not just due to the dwindling oil price but because mono-economy ‎can no longer sustain required developments.

Faced with this reality, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) government had identified agriculture as one of the ways to diversify the economy and ensure food security. Thus, states across the country have been encouraged to follow suit.

For Ebonyi State, the monthly federal allocation, which ranges between N1.5bn and N2.5bn has never been enough to meet the growing needs of the state and its people as government pays counter funding for projects, subvention for higher institution and salaries, from the paltry sum. Hence, the urgent need to toe the line of economic diversification.

From time immemorial, the Ebonyi people are predominantly farmers. They specialise mostly in rice, cassava and tomato cultivations across the state. Not many Nigerians are unfamiliar with “Abakaliki” rice since the 70s. It used to be very famous among the people.‎

The Ebonyi State Government has been assuring Nigerians that the state would conveniently p‎roduce 10 per cent of the nation’s rice consumption pegged at about 6m metric tonnes by 2018.

‎Giving the assurance during a courtesy call at the THISDAY corporate office in Apapa, Lagos, last week, the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information, Senator Emmanuel Onwe, said the Governor David Umahi government is working tirelessly to make the state a big player in rice production in Nigeria.

According to him, with relevant support to subsistence rice farmers in the state, the state is expecting about 200, 000 metric tonnes harvest in this year, adding that the targeted 600, 000 metric tonnes is attainable with federal government support in coming seasons.

“We want to produce 10 per cent of what Nigeria consumes. This year we are producing only about two per cent. We could double that if there was provision for dry season farming. In 2017, we hope to increase it to six per cent and by 2018 10 per cent”, he said. He stated further that: “This wet season, Ebonyi was able to put about 35, 000 hectares into rice cultivation and we are expecting about 200, 000 metric tonnes harvest.

“The federal government should take very seriously, states‎ like Ebonyi. Kebbi State is doing well indeed – producing a large amount of rice. Of course, Kebbi is a much larger state. If we are able to go to the circle of not just producing in the wet season but also in the dry season, then we will very quickly be able to meet the markets in Port Harcourt, Lagos, Onisha, Abba, Abuja and others. That is our primary target for 2017 and 2018.
“But it is expensive to do dry season rice farming‎ because it requires irrigation infrastructure, which a state like Ebonyi cannot afford. In fact, it is why we are facing agriculture. Between Ekiti and Ebonyi, it is always about which comes last in revenue allocation. That is why we are taking rice – agriculture seriously.

“The Anchor Borrower Scheme, Ebonyi borrowed 2bn to invest in rice production specifically at nine per cent interest rate, but rural farmers cannot afford interest rate of nine per cent. We are hoping that the federal government will have programmes for rice producing states that will attract interest-free loans.

“Even if interest will apply for the management of the loan, may be not more than three per cent. This country spends large amount on rice importation. Anything above will be punishing the farmers. They cannot afford that. It will be like they are slaving for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). If they get support, most of them will be self-sufficient from the profit they will be making.”

While he noted that the previous government had acquired a mega capacity rice-processing plant, complimented with parboiling equipment purchased by Governor Umahi, Onwe said the state looks forward to the central government in the areas of tractors, irrigation infrastructure, provision of funds and ‎other relevant assistance to local farmers.

‎He was sure the state would meet its statewide rice consumption this season and extend to other markets nationwide. Ebonyi State on November 21, pronounced a ban on sales of imported rice in the state.‎

Speaking on the development, Umahi once said: “We have set up a taskforce and directed them to confiscate foreign rice found in our markets. The person should give us the certificate of the quality of the rice, you have to prove the import duties you paid for it, where you brought it from and you give us Standard Organization of Nigeria certificate to prove that the rice is not poisonous.” The governor said foreign rice is poisonous because some of them were stored for more than 20 years abroad before they were smuggled into the country.

“That is why we have cases of cancer, cases of kidney failure and all kinds of diseases that our people were not known for. So, you are taking risk if you are selling foreign rice in the land of Ebonyi,” he added.

Research has also shown that the Abakaliki rice is highly nutritious with better quality taste due to its moisture nature and salinity ‎of Ebonyi land. Though currently selling at about N20, 000 per bag, the state is enthusiastic that with increased production and government support, the price will come down soon.‎

Not only is Governor Umahi, who himself has the largest rice farm in the state confident that enough was being produced in Ebonyi, he has said repeatedly that the state was looking for distributors of the fully and well packaged rice named: Ebonyi Rice World.

Also convinced that something unique is happening in Ebonyi State and that the state needed all forms of support, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, recently threw his weight behind the state government over the ban on the sale of foreign rice.

Speaking during the Nigeria’s Zero Hunger Initiative meeting in Abuja, Adamu while‎ reacting to the ban by Governor Umahi of the sale of foreign rice in markets and other outlets in the state, alleged that the campaign against the local production and consumption of rice is a conspiracy between rice importers and some elite in the country.

“I believe that the campaign against local production of rice is a campaign spearheaded by rice importers. I do not believe we cannot produce enough rice for ourselves. We may not at this point in time be having enough for everybody but the campaign on rice is an elitist campaign.

“There is collaboration between importers and elites in the country. We have rice. We should eat our rice. There is no where our local rice has harmed anybody and the more we eat our rice, the more we put our farmers on business. I support the ban on sale of foreign rice in Ebonyi.

“We have to start somewhere. What we know is that local production is not enough but we should consume it and that is not an excuse for importing rice. We cannot afford the luxury of importation particularly in this period of recession”, he said.

‎Just like an old English adage, which says “The taste of the pudding is in the eating” it is necessary that every Nigerian experiments with the new Abakaliki rice and see what is new about it. But more significantly, it is devoid of foreign bodies because of the improved methods of processing.

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There is collaboration between importers and elites in the country. We have rice. We should eat our rice. There is no where our local rice has harmed anybody and the more we eat our rice, the more we put our farmers on business. I support the ban on sale of foreign rice in Ebonyi…We have to start somewhere. What we know is that local production is not enough but we should consume it and that is not an excuse for importing rice.