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How Uncle Ben’s & Other Imported Rice Found Their Way Into Nigeria In Second Republic

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For decades, I
have been wondering how so many imported rice were allowed to flood the
Nigerian food market unabated. The excuses I got were either flippant (to say
the least) or untenable. Not until I stumbled on a classic write-up by Ray Ekpu (one of my favourite writers during
the era of Newswatch Magazine). It
sums up virtually everything I need to know.

I guess you will enjoy it too…

During the Second Republic there was some bit of
cash to throw around because crude oil was doing its duty well: bringing in the
dollars. But there was not much food, not for the stomach, not for the refuse
bin. The government came up with an answer. It had promised during the
campaigns to usher in an unspoiled paradise. Time to deliver. It decided to
import rice from all corners of the globe.
At the cabinet
meeting where the proposal was tabled a young
Cabinet Minister
made a suggestion that the government should invest the
money in rice production rather than importation. He was just barking up the
wrong tree. His sensible suggestion was brushed aside. It was easy to yield to
the importation impulse because rice importers were already on the queue, salivating
and those who benefit from the kickbacks were also on their own queues,
salivating. 

Nigeria brought into the country rice from every conceivable part
of the planet – Uncle Ben’s rice from
America
and Thailand parboiled rice
from Thailand
. We made rice producers in other countries rich and rice
producers in Nigeria poor from non-patronage. Our ports were choked. The press
named it the “rice armada.”
The young cabinet
minister who made that heretical statement must have had a stab in the heart
when the imported rice choked our ports. That man is, today, Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural
Development: Audu Ogbeh
Ogbeh brings to the table his experience in
politics as chairman of the PDP and in Agriculture as a cashew nut and poultry
farmer. He now has a chance to step up to the plate. He is now swallowing his
own medicine by turning vigorously to the idea of producing rather than
importing food which in the last three decades or so has gulped about $22
billion yearly of Nigeria’s scarce resources.
I find the new
agriculture architecture interesting. It seems to be organised in concentric
circles. In the innermost circle is the Life
Improvement Family Enterprise (LIFE)
, a programme that attempts to empower
youths and women in the rural areas for subsistence farming. The target is to
directly empower three million rural youths and women so that they can produce
about 14 million metric tonnes of food in the 9,975 council wards across the
774 local government areas. The outer circle is populated by the state
governments and private sector entrepreneurs who produce rice and other
consummables in commercial quantity. 
States such as Kebbi, Nasarawa, Ebonyi etc
are already making big strides in rice production. Private sector entrepreneurs
such as Aliko Dangote, Cosmas Maduka and
Olam
in Nasarawa State are weighing in with huge investments in rice
production. The state governments and the big private sector companies are
engaged in mechanised farming which will vastly improve food availability. 
The
Federal Government’s Mechanisation
Intervention Programme
, we learn, involves the distribution of 6,000
tractors and 13,000 harvest and post-harvest equipment units to the various
states of the federation. With all these plans in place Ogbeh believes Nigeria
will be self-sufficient in rice production by the end of this year.
For many Nigerians
imported products are an exhilarating status symbol whether the quality is
better than the local product or not. Take rice for example. Locally produced
rice is healthier and more nutritious than the imported, polished rice. Some
people claim that the imported rice is less expensive than the local rice. 
It is up to our rice
producers to ensure that they do not price themselves out of the market. It is
also the responsibility of government to ensure that the country is not flooded
with inferior food items from abroad that are sold cheaply at the expense of
good quality local products. Did you not read of jollof rice imported from India into Nigeria?
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Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis is a communicator, Journalist, blogger, business coach and, of course, a prolific writer. He has Dip (Journalism) and B.A. (History & International Relations) from the Lagos State University (LASU). The self-effacing young man has worked for national, regional and local newspapers. He had worked with THISDAY covered community news for ISLAND NEWS and corresponded with P.M. NEWS (evening tabloid). Presently, he is the editor of CITYPULSE MEDIA and senior correspondent of PHARMANEWS, West Africa foremost health and pharmaceutical journal.

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