Features Write-Ups

IMOTA RICE MILL AND IMPERATIVES OF FOOD SECURITY

Tayo Ogunbiyi

According to a United Nations statistics, over 1.02 billion people do not have enough to eat ( more than the populations of USA, Canada and the European Union), while the number of undernourished people in the world increased by 75 million in 2007 and 40 million in 2008 (largely due to high cost of food). In the developing countries, the statistics is more worrisome, as over 1 billion people are hungry.

Aside hunger and malnutrition, food insecurity equally results in a wide range of other problems such as health hazards, environmental degradation and high rate of crime. Conversely, to the extent that food security improves, most facets of life improve as well.

To improve agriculture and food security (being able to produce enough food to sustain families and communities year after year), is a herculean task for most African nations. Hence, their people easily become victims of food related problems.

Former Minister of Agriculture and current President of the African Development Bank, ADB, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, once disclosed that in 2010 alone, the nation spent a staggering N635b on wheat importation while another N35t was spent on rice importation as well as N217b on sugar importation and another N97b spent on fish importation! Just imagine how much impact such amount of money could have had on our nation if it had been invested in improving critical infrastructure across the country.

As it is the case with many parts of the country, in Lagos State, a lot must be done to enhance food security for the ever growing population. With most of its people engaged in activities outside of the agricultural sector, Lagos might be in danger of being over depended on other parts of the country for steady food supply.

It is, therefore, in order to stem the tide of food insecurity in the State, that the current administration under the leadership of Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu has made a solemn pledge to complete the all important State Government-owned Integrated Rice Mill at Imota, in the Ikorodu division of the State, in record time.

The integrated rice mill at Imota is a 22-hectare facility with the rice mill taking about 8.5 hectares and consists of a complete set of new mills, two warehouses, 16 silos with a storage capacity of 40 metric tons each,  water treatment plant, effluent processing plant, staff quarters, administrative block, car park and firefighting facility amongst others. 

 Rice, a staple food in most Nigerian homes, has always enjoyed increasing demand across the country. As a staple that is easy to cook, there is hardly nowhere around the country that this grain is not consumed. However, festivities and other social functions, often place huge demand on the availability of this popular food item in the country.

The wide acceptance of rice as a regular item on most families’ menu list in the country is responsible for the huge amount of money that has over the years been expended on its importation.  For instance, the country imported about 17 million tonnes of rice in the five years preceding the current Buhari administration. As it is often said, necessity is the mother of invention; smugglers adopt various devices to illegally bring rice into the country.

The intervention of players such as Olam into local rice farm in 2012 as a response to government support for local farmers did not yield any noticeable dividend. This is a farm of 4,500 hectares with mill, very close to Benue River and it is equipped with silos with a capacity to store 228,000 tonnes of rice. Yet, the 50,000 tonnes of rice grown by the company each year was of small fraction of Nigeria’s rice consumption demand.

Our reliance on importation of rice has been to the disadvantage of our local economy. Resources that could have been spent to boost capacity of agro-economy were channelled to the importation of rice which has lost its nutritional value due to years of preservation. In 2016, Nigeria rice importation stood at 2.3 million tonnes, with $5million averagely spent on each shipment.

Thus, the Sanwo-Olu administration’s plan to accord the Imota Rice Mill a priority attention is, indeed, a laudable one. Recall that one of the earliest tasks of Governor Sanwo-Olu was a working visit to the Mill where he promised to speed up the completion of the project. The Governor who visited the Mills in the company of his Deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, the Head of Service, Mr. Hakeem Muri-Okunola and other top government functionaries reiterated his administration’s commitment to enhancing food security in the State.

Currently, work has reached an appreciable level on the project, which upon completion would provide a boost for food security in the State, while also generating jobs and prosperity for the people as well as enhance the supply value chain.  

Realistically, when it becomes fully operational, the 32 metric-tonnes Mill should be able to provide for the rice needs of a considerable proportion of Lagos residents. In order to further ensure that the rice need of Lagosians is adequately catered for, the State government is already collaborating with the South West and Northern States, as well as the Rice Farmers Association (REFAN) for the acquisition of rice paddy.

Without a doubt, the State government is unreservedly committed to the Federal Government new policy on rice importation. Towards this end, it is already in discussion with other States, especially those with the capacity to provide land for rice cultivation. Consequently, some of them have offered to make available about 72,000 hectares of land in their respective States. This is certainly a boost for Lagos’ renewed drive for rice cultivation.

According to the 2017/2018 report from the Rice Farmers Association (REFAN), the apex rice farmers’ body has the ability to produce 10 million tonnes of rice. Sadly, however, only a tiny fraction of that capacity is being optimally put to use. It is this shortfall that the Lagos State government is working hard to fill, particularly with its sustained assurance on the Imota Rice Mill.

Fortunately, the World Bank is coming to the aid of the State government in this fresh impetus to promote food security. This is being done with focus on the Value chain with a view to enhancing the capacity of the rice farmers and the entire value chain.

With a growing population of over 20 million, it is wise and convenient for Lagos State to embrace food security. Aside hunger and malnutrition, food insecurity equally results in a wide range of other problems such as health, environmental degradation, and high rate of crime. Cheerfully, the Lagos State government is already doing something positive in this direction.

Being the country’s Center of Excellence, it is essential for the State to take a cue from countries such as China, Thailand and Vietnam, in generating a lot of revenue from rice production, in addition to ensuring food security for the State in particular and Nigeria in general.

Ogunbiyi is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information & strategy, Alausa, Ikeja

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