Celebrating Xmas with local rice

Rice is a very common staple food of Nigerians and very much associated with festive seasons especially Christmas. KEHINDE AKINSELURE and ADELOWO OLADIPO write that with rising cost of imported rice, the country is currently looking inwards to match production with local demands to make staple more affordable and the festive seasons merrier.

NIGERIANS have always loved rice but it is the kind of love for a commodity that has continued to rise steadily over time. Since the mid-1970s, rice consumption has risen at about 10% per annum as consumer preferences and urbanisation pattern continued to change.

Most of the rice consumed was imported, as domestic production has never been able to meet local demand.

The Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC) has indicated that five million metric tons of rice, amounting to about 100 million 50kg bags of rice, is consumed yearly in the country.

Statistically, Nigeria’s rice consumption is projected to reach 35 million tonnes by 2050, from five million tonnes currently, rising at the rate of 7 per cent yearly, due to population growth.

Three months ago, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, during a town hall meeting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State said $22 billion is being spent yearly on the importation of food to the country, while noting that the development had led to the astronomical rise in price of rice and other commodities. He stressed the fact that if Nigerians failed to produce some of the items being imported before this month, the price of rice would skyrocket to N40,000 a bag.

While others were worried by the statement, Lagos State Government assured its residents that by December, there would be about 51,000 metric tonnes of rice for sale at an affordable price. While the announcement was met with joy, many were pessimistic that it was just another political promise that might not hold waters.

However, on Wednesday, 21 December, all doubt was put to rest as the ‘LAKE Rice’ was eventually distributed in centres across the 57 local governments and local council development areas for sale at, indeed, an affordable price of N12,000 per bag of 50kg and N6,000 for 25kg.

The Special Adviser on Food Security to Governor Akinwumi Ambode, Mr Sanni Okanlawon, while announcing the availability of LAKE Rice noted that it was a fulfilment of promise, made by the government, to give Lagos residents a blissful Yuletide. Okanlawon said that the price of the rice was reduced to N12,000 from N13,000 ealier announced to ensure that Lagosians had access to it for an enjoyable Christmas celebration.

“We are happy to inform Lagosians that the Lake rice is out and available at the various local government areas and local council development areas. A 50kg bag is currently selling at N12,000 that is a huge discount considering the price of rice at retail markets. That shows how eager the state government is to give its folks the best. So, we urge everybody to go to those locations to get their bags from today,” he said.

LAKE Rice is a product of the joint agricultural venture between Lagos State and Kebbi State Governments, designed to ensure food security and showcase Nigeria’s ability to become a rice producing nation. The name LAKE is an acronym of the two states, Lagos and Kebbi.

This was birthed from an MoU that Lagos State Government and its Kebbi counterpart signed earlier in March.

At the official commissioning of the LAKE Rice, Lagos state Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode and his Kebbi counterpart, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu described the venture as historic for both states and the country.

At the Oko-Oba, Agege sales point, two 40 foot trailers were seen loaded with the produce during the week, while a crowd queued at the centre to purchase the rice.

One of the buyers at the Agege centre, Mr Olurinsola  Ebun, said he had heard from media reports that the rice would be out and had come quickly to purchase his own before Christmas Day noting that he was not sure of getting but came nevertheless.

“I thought it would be rowdy like the usual Lagos things. But I was indeed surprised at the orderly way and manner the distribution went,” he said.

A pensioner, Mr Ukot Francis, was full of praises to the government for the initiative, adding that the rice would ensure that residents had food to eat during the festive period.

According to him, “When I learnt that the price of rice was N20,000 in the market, I was worried because I felt we would have to manage Christmas without rice but I do not even want to think about.

“The subsidised Lake Rice is comforting and a blessing to many residents of Lagos. It shows that the government is concerned about our plight,” he said.

Christiana Akindele, a market woman at Yaba, said that the rice would alleviate poverty and hunger in the country. “I have been preaching to my children not to expect much celebration during the Christmas but was praying that God should perform a miracle. In fact this LAKE rice is a miracle from God. All thanks to the Lagos State government, “she said.

In Niger State the patronage level of locally produced rice has tremendously increased among residents.

Investigation conducted by Sunday Tribune revealed that patronage of locally produced rice, especially by the low and middle income earners has been remarkable given what they see as the nutrient value of the locally produced rice.

It was further gathered that better processing made possible by de-stoner and polishing machines has made local rice to compete favourably with imported brands.

Market survey conducted by Sunday Tribune around Minna and other markets in the environs revealed that the price of the local rice is affordable to the average family in the state.

In addition, prices of the local rice vary from one place to the other. The 25kg bag of Niger rice at Bida, for example is sold for N7,000.

As a result of higher demands, more farmers are going into rice farming coupled with availability of improved seedlings provided by government.

In an official reaction to the increasing output of local rice in the state, Mr. Jide Orintunsin, the Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to Governor Abubakar Sani Bello said the state is one of the focal states in the local rice production in the country.

He added that government’s efforts at increased local rice production have started yielding tremendous results, following the attraction of some foreign investors to the state in recent times.

According to Oritunsin, over $100million investment in rice production is ongoing in Swashi Area of Borgu Local Government of the state by an Indian firm, adding that the company has also built two rice processing and milling plants in New Bussa, in the same Borgu Local Government and another one in Bida Local Government Area of the state.

“About one week ago, (recently) the governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, commissioned a $1.8 million Integrated Modern rice processing and plants in Bida, under the auspices of Korea International Cooperation Agencies (KOICA).

“In the same vein, plans are afoot by the state government to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Aliko Dangote Group for the establishment of rice processing and milling plants in strategic areas of the state,” he told Sunday Tribune.

This, he said, is part of the efforts by the state government to promote locally made rice as well as ensuring national food security.

Similarly, another company, Sunti Farms, a subsidiary of the Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc is presently in Mokwa Local Government of the state for local rice and Sugar production, stressing that another multi-billion naira rice plantation and milling plants are also in Bina, Lapai Local Government Area of the state.

“The state government is also cashing in on the Central Bank of Nigeria’s rice anchor growers programme, arguing that that was why the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, the CBN’s Governor Mr. Godwin Emefiele and the Chairman, Presidential Committee on rice paddy, Governor  Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State visited Niger State recently to assess the level of work done so far,” Oritunsin added.

Across the country in Kaduna, Ebonyi where the Abakaliki rice is popular; Ekiti, where Igbemo rice is well-known; Ogun State where Ofada rice is equally widely accepted, even beyond including Plateau State, local rice production is gradually increasing.

More investors are also coming into other states which, when fully on ground, may make Nigerians to depend less on imported rice during Christmas in the future.