The determined drive of the current administration to diversify the economy from the mono-product of oil to agriculture has started to yield the desired fruits. The recent unveiling of the MITROS Rice Processing factory by the forward-looking Governor Ibikunle Amosun in Ogun State amply attests to that. The rice, packaged in 50kg bags, is produced at Egua land in Yewa South Local Government Area of the state, while the processing and packaging facilities are sited in Asero area of Abeokuta, the state capital. Good enough, it comes with an affordable market price of N11,500. This initiative is truly commendable.
As rightly noted by the governor, the rice production would boost food supply, reduce dependency on imported ones while the mill would create jobs for the farmers, millers and marketers in the state. In addition, the rice farmers in the state would no longer have to travel far in search of milling facilities.
Furthermore, he frowned at the sad scenario of huge import dependency especially on products we could easily produce locally. Said he:“This has weighed heavily on the nation’s economy as it exerted pressure on foreign reserves and value of the naira with attendant needless outsourcing of agricultural work to distant countries.” According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele Nigeria spent a whopping $2.41 billion on rice importation between 2012 and 2015. Surely, we cannot continue to tread on this long-winding path of economic slavery.
Not long ago one had cause to applaud the synergy between Lagos and Kebi states for coming up with Lake Rice project. This addition from Ogun state has further increased the tempo of inward looking to deploy our resources and unleash our agricultural potentials. Recent feelers indicate that rice importers from Asian countries and their accomplice smugglers are already bemoaning their fate.
As earlier highlighted in a previous, related piece on rice production in Nigeria, agric experts posited that Nigeria was capable of producing 18 million metric tonnes of rice but our farmers yielded a paltry 3.2 million tonnes. That was n 2003. But statistics a year before in 2002 claimed that we were spending, or rather wasting a whopping N60 billion (Naira) yearly on rice importation. In fact, Nigerian rice merchants imported 24 million metric tons of rice valued at $8.86 billion (N1.77 trillion) from Thailand, Pakistan, India, United States and Vietnam in the last 10 years, it has been gathered.
In January 2006, the price of the commodity soared from $284.45 to $369 per metric ton. Statistics revealed that in 2006, the country imported 1.5 million metric tons; 1.8 million metric tons in 2007; 1.75 million tons in 2008; 1.75 million metric tons in 2009 and 2.4 million metric tons in 2010. In 2011, the nation also imported 3.2 million tons; 2.8 million tons in 2012; 2.8 million tons in 2013; 3.5 million tons in 2014 and 2.5 million tons in 2015.
In all honesty, Governor Amosun deserves commendation by taking the bull by the horn because the state, created in 1976 with a land mass of 16,981 km² bordered by Lagos State to the south, Oyo and Osun states to the north, Ondo to the east and the Republic of Benin to the west should have no business depending on foreign food items, including rice for survival. It boasts of major food crops include rice, maize, cassava, yam and banana. Others are cocoa, kola nut, rubber, palm oil and palm kernels.
One other aspect of the rice project in Ogun state is the element of trust. Earlier in the year the state’s Commissioner for Agriculture, Mrs. Ronke Sokefun, revealed that the state was embarking on massive production of rice, with the aim of selling at affordable price to its residents by the end of the year. She made this public at a press conference organised by the state Council of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (OGUNCCIMA) for the eighth Gateway Trade Fair 2017. Specifically, she stated then that acres of land were being prepared for massive planting of the rice by farmers. Now, the promise has been fulfilled!
Another notable aspect is that of partnerships. Months before the state also said it has concluded plans with Sterling Group, an Agro-Allied Firm, to embark on the cultivation of rice and other agricultural produce for food security. The company then pledged a whopping sum of ten billion dollars to the partnership. The salutary aim of course is to make Ogun state the largest rice producing state in the entire federation. As events unfold, it is no longer one long pipe dream.
To fast track the processes that would make Ogun State the largest rice producing state in Nigeria, as promised during its interaction with the state’s chapter of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, it should also synergise with the tertiary institutions of learning, research institutes and the manufacturing firms. As fate would have it, the state is home to several of them.
For instance, it could draw up a sustainable Master Plan on the Rice Revolution with the best of brains from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta and bells University of Technology, Ota. Furthermore, it should source for high-yielding, disease-resistant and early-maturing rice hybrid seedlings from IITA, Ibadan and send agric graduates to FIIRO, Oshodi for courses on processing, packaging and preservation. It should also forge partnerships with Nigerian engineers for local machine fabrication. This would save scarce foreign exchange as it would also serve as a catalyst for job creation.
Even as the focus is currently shifted on rice milling, no effort should be spared to add technological value to other crops such as maize, cassava, cocoa, banana, kola nut, rubber, palm oil and palm kernels. The value chain to be derived from the processing, packaging, marketing and export of their finished products will certainly make Ogun state one of the self dependent states, not waiting for federal allocation to fund its vision.
So far, the right step has been taken by Governor Amosun. What remains is the expansion and sustenance. Well done!