Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi, in this interview with COLLINS NNABUIFE who recently visited the state, explained why he banned the sale of imported rice in the state. He also advised the government on how to stop rice importation in the country.
What inspired you to embark on this rice revolution in your state?
We are known for agriculture and solid mineral, since we don’t have other means of raising our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) other than agriculture and solid mineral and of course export of human resources, so these are the reasons why we decided to focus on some of these areas that we have comparative advantage.
What have you achieved in the last two years on rice production?
I must commend the minister of agriculture and rural development very highly for  his programmes of course initiated by President Muhammadu Buhari. He has done very well in terms of agricultural programmes for the state and for the nation at large.
Let me point out that the programme in agriculture have brought down the forex, before now we imported a lot of food items into the country, and you won’t forget that the dollar was rising to a dollar for N560 to N600, but when the programme in agriculture started, the dollar started falling.
I also commend the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Minister of Finance and the Chief of Staff, they have put their programmes together and the states are very well positioned to do better in agriculture.
I can say that in the area of rice production with the assistance of the Federal Government, their encouragement and their initiative, we have done quite well, we have been able to encourage farmers. We have been able to demonstrate that having one hectare of land for rice is better than being a local government councilor, so we launched One Man One Hectare in Ebonyi State, and that has really encouraged our people, we also borrowed N2 billion, N5 billion and another N3 billion from the federal government.
We want to domesticate rice production in the state, we are going beyond individual production, we are now beginning to see how we can institute rice mega cities in each local government, whereby we have 5000 hectares of land dedicated for rice production in each of our local government areas.
Already we have four mega rice mills in operation and of course you also see the private people milling with their traditional machines, we have imported another three sets of rice mills which we will install in the next three months. The idea is that before the middle of next year, we will be able to have one rice mill in each local government in the state, we have also introduced the system of standardization in terms of pricing and quality, so that when you have paddy to sell, you have to come to our buying center at the local government, so we will be able to weigh the rice and know how much you will be paid. We have prices for the different types of rice, for a particular quality of milled rice, we have a uniform price, we should also be able to monitor the quality of our rice, we are known all over the world for Abakaliki rice, we are very proud of that and we want to ensure that we maintain that standard and that rating.
What structure are you putting in place to ensure sustainability of some of these programmes that you have introduced on rice?
Like the rice mega cities, it is not going to be run by the government, it could be powered by the government, we are trying to establish a law now, if you want to take the 5000 hectares of land to farm as an investor, the law permits the owners of the land to come up with cooperative societies, then each farm owner will become a shareholder by reason of the percentage of farmland he contributed to make up the 5000 hectares.
So, we want to see if we can mechanize agriculture, so the traditional means of rice farming and harvesting, we want to see if we can improve on that, and then the law will be such that the owners will have for example 10 per cent equity of the investment, they have nothing else to invest other than being the owner of the land and the state will also have about 10 per cent.
Then these cooperative societies will also work in the farm, so you will not see the place of government, it will not be controlled by the government, they will pay taxes to government, so it is not dependent on who comes in as governor.
What is your target for rice production in the state?
We are targeting 100,000 hectares of rice within the next two years, using an average of four tons per hectares, we will be talking about 400,000 metric tons of paddy. But when we are mechanized, we could get as much as five to 7 tons per hectare.
Are you thinking of going into the international market?
We are already out of our market, some people eat Abakaliki rice and call us on phone  and say it is special, somehow Ebonyi rice is salted, it has a different taste, if you take it you will not wish to eat any other rice.
But the local consumption in other neighboring West African countries is an issue, because they come here in there number to buy this rice.
How has the ban on selling of foreign rice impacted on the economy of the state?
We banned the foreign rice here, and if you want to import, we will have to see your import license, evidence of payment of duties, the source and ensure it is not plastic rice, these are the issues and every state has the right to ask those questions.
So, since there is no chaff they bring in as foreign rice, our people are encouraged of course through the programmes of the federal government, the farmers get more money, the farmers have confidence in the system, they produce the rice and it is bought, so they are more engaged in doing that, this is important for us.
What is your suggestion to the federal government in tackling rice smuggling into the country?
I don’t believe that this is a problem, sometimes the federal government doesn’t want to act. What is the problem of sitting in one place and have CCTV cameras at some of the border locations, you can even install a CCTV that people will hardly know, it can be a wireless one and then it is fixed on a tree.
Also, get the Customs officials that have retired and form them into a committee to man these borders, they will do very well, so it is question of interest, that is why we still have smuggled rice, but the Customs can also go into the market and verify the duties paid on rice by the importers.
Unless we are not able to feed our people, when this argument came up because am a member of the Zero Hunger, I am also a member of the Presidential Task Force on Food, so the issue came up and we were being lobbied to allow importation of rice of a certain percentage and we said no, they said there is no rice in the state. I told them to send the security people to the rice mills, let us find out whether there is any particular day that we have more customers than supply and nobody have been able to prove that which means that what we produce is able to sustain the nation.
So, there shouldn’t be smuggling, and then you begin to find out that Nigeria is one of the few countries that have parboiled rice and when you have your rice that is not parboiled the highest it will stay is about six months it will now become chaff and become equally dangerous, and you can see the increase in cancer, kidney failure, liver problems and other diseases as a result of all these importation, we have proven that some rice are plastic rice, so these are dangerous things that are impacting negatively on our health.

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