Mid last month, the federal government officially announced plans to stop the importation of rice in the next two years. However, it said the policy would not be enforced until local rice industries are developed to produce maximally for local consumption.
According to the Zamfara State Governor and Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, who announced the plan after a joint meeting with the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, the Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, and permanent secretaries of federal ministries at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, with the determination of the present government and availability of vast arable land, Nigeria can sustain itself with rice production.
“The meeting was on the new policy on agriculture and food sustainability. We discussed how we can boost rice production in Nigeria and start thinking about how we are going to put policies in place on how rice importation will be banned in the country. We have the potential. We have the human resources. We have the arable land to grow rice. In the next two years, we will not need to bring rice from outside Nigeria. We are going to ban it.
“It is only in Nigeria, a country of millions of people, that there is no food security. We discussed the policy with the relevant permanent secretaries and the CBN governor. The policy is going to be in place and we gave our commitment that we are ready to support government’s policy in ensuring that Nigeria becomes self-sufficient in food production in the next two years.
“Nigeria is currently a major importer of rice. Now, the political will is in place to stop it. We, in about nine states, are going to be seriously engaged in massive rice production. We are hoping that in the next two years, rice importation into Nigeria will be banned. We are committed and the political will is in place,” Governor Yari said.
Friday Magazine takes a look at one of the many indigenous rice production mills as the nation prepares for a full swing production for both local and foreign consumers.
Wherever and whenever Ebonyi State is mentioned, what readily comes to mind is Abakaliki rice. As an agrarian state, Ebonyi people are doing well in the production of other crops such as yam, cassava, etc; but thanks to the immediate past administration in the state which invested huge funds in the production of rice, thereby making rice the highest agricultural produce in Ebonyi.
Because farmers in Ebonyi produce rice in large quantities, there was need for milling centres to be situated across local government areas to enable them have access to the mills. This development gave rise to the establishment of such centres by cooperative societies in virtually every local government area.
The milling machines were situated in such a way that it formed a cluster and people from far and near bring their rice produce there for milling. Most times, the centre is also a market where people buy or sell rice.
Aside these sub-milling centres that were scattered in different parts of the state, there is a central mill known as Abakaliki Rice Milling Industry located within the state capital along Ogoja road. The Abakaliki rice milling industry covers large hectares of land. This large cluster of rice milling industry is owned and managed by private individuals and cooperative societies who have their milling machines, while government only collects royalties/levies from them.
Usually, people come from far and near to the mill to buy or sell rice on a daily basis. According to investigation, people from the north including neighbouring states such as Enugu, Imo, Abia and Anambra always come to buy rice in Abakaliki in very large quantities. The reason for the high patronage is not only that Abakaliki rice has been identified to have a unique taste when compared to foreign rice and other kinds of rice being patronised by people, it is cheap and affordable.
In recognition of the need for qualitative and quantitative rice production in the state, the immediate past governor, Chief Martin Elechi, established three rice processing centres, one in each of the three senatorial zones. The essence was to boost the quality and quantity of Ebonyi rice.
After the huge investment on rice production by Elechi, the success of the people in rice production was given a boost as one can hardly differentiate it with the so called foreign rice. Apart from the modern milling processing it currently undergoes; the packaging has also been improved.
Although, the former governor made frantic efforts to relocate the mill from the capital city which propelled him to build additional rice processing centres, but the attempt was greeted by stiff opposition from the millers who botched the plan through litigations at the Industrial Court in Enugu. The reason for the opposition, according to the millers, was that Elechi wanted them to relocate to where he built the rice processing clusters without putting in place things that would enable their stay in those areas such as buildings and the necessary social amenities.
Rice production no doubt has created jobs from which a lot of people feed their families. There are a lot of jobs people do in Abakaliki rice mill industry including technical/professional and unprofessional/causal works, as well as others who sell their wares in the area. This has helped to reduce unemployment in the state as there are a lot of jobs to be done through which one can earn a living.
In the industry, for instance, you can find loaders, toll gate levy collectors/taskforce, food vendors, commercial bus/duty truck drivers, milling machine operators, sales representatives, wheel barrow pushers, women whose duty it is to dispose the rice husk/chaff otherwise called the winnowers, hired local security men, gatemen among others who trade on different wares.
In fact, the Abakaliki milling industry has become a large market of spot where all kinds of things including other farm produce such as yam, garri, unprocessed cassava, beans, millet and groundnut, etc; are sold in large quantities. This development has no doubt made the area a beehive of all kinds of business activities on a daily basis.
However, of particular interest among the many businesses and activities that go on at the area daily is that of women and girls who help the millers dispose the rice husk otherwise called the winnowers. These women voluntarily assist the millers carry the rice husk to a nearby disposing/dumping ground. They do this because each time the rice husk is separated from the rice by the machine; the separation is not usually 100 percent. The women on carrying the husk to the dumping ground, take time to sieve/winnow the chaff manually again to enable them get the remaining rice.
Most of them including those from rural areas get their daily bread and that of their entire families through this business. Before the close of work each day, the women get large quantities of rice ranging from full basins, half or even more than that depending on the quantity of rice processed for the day or the energy they were able to exert in doing the business. They in turn sell the rice at a cheaper rate to consumers/customers who throng the industry daily in search of rice and also use part of the proceed to transport themselves to their destinations, as well as attend to other needs.
But whatever benefit the women derive from this business, on a first visit to the market, you will not wish that anybody, especially women should engage in such business considering its tedious nature. Apart from the fact that these women climb a rice husk mountain which is as tall as a four-storey building; the business itself poses a great danger to them.
Investigation has shown that these women and girls who undertake this menial job suffer constant eye problem because of the particles of the husk which steadily enter and accumulate in their eyes. Many, according to sources, have become blind as a result of it. Some in the course of doing this business have gotten badly burnt after unknowingly stepping on heaps of rice husk after it has been set ablaze.
According to Mrs Juliana Nweke, she has engaged in the business since she lost her husband and it has been helping her fend for the family, as well as pay her children’s school fees. She stated that she makes up to N,1000 on a good day, whereas on other days she makes less than N500 and sometimes takes the rice she got from the husk home as food for the family.
“It is not an easy job to carry this rice husk to the mountain but I am used to it. Since my husband died, I engaged in this business and it has been helping me sustain my family and to even train my four children starting from primary to secondary school level. So I do not feel bad doing it because it is not as bad as robbery,” Nweke, who spoke in Central Igbo language, told our correspondent.
The story is not different for the over 60-year old Mrs Grace Olebe, who told our correspondent in Igbo language that she is doing well in the business even though it is tedious, but noted that she is comfortable with it since she gets her daily bread from it. She called for help from government and public spirited individuals as age is no longer on her side. She, however, thanked God for protecting her, while she toils on top of a rice husk mountain trying to make ends meet.
“My son, I did not start the business today. I am used to it, though a very difficult job, but I am not bothered as far as I make my daily bread. Let government and concerned individuals help us so that somebody like me who is battling with old age will have less difficult and tasking job to engage myself in order to keep sustaining my family. However, I thank God for his mercies and protection upon my life because for me to still have the strength to climb this mountain is by God’s grace.’’
Observers are concerned about the continuous neglect of the rice husks heaps which have formed several mountains around the rice mill industry. Not only that it poses a great danger to the environment, it has also covered a larger part of the area, thereby making the millers to struggle over the remaining space for business.
As a state with huge agricultural potentials, observers and experts alike are of the view that the husk, instead of being allowed to remain as a threat to the habitat (human beings), the state government can convert them into manure for agricultural purposes, especially at this time that every state government is looking for ways to boost Internally Generated Revenue, following the dwindling oil price which is currently the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy.
The rice husk which has formed mountainous clusters around the industry accumulates daily and the need for it to be evacuated has become germane because not only that it will create more space for the millers to do their business; it will also boost the agricultural produce of the state if converted into manure. Thanks to former Governor Elechi for procuring pulverisation plants that can turn wastes into manure for agricultural purposes though they are yet to be cleared form the Port Harcourt wharf.
Interestingly, the current administration headed by Governor Dave Umahi is interested in keeping the environment clean, as well as investing in the agricultural sector. No doubt, he will not rest until he fulfils his goals in these two areas.


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