LAKE Rice: How Ambode Saw Tomorrow, By Gbolahan Akintunde
The success of LAKE rice is very instructive. It shows Ambode as a thinking governor who had a vision and worked towards its realisation. Governor Ambode knew that with the skyrocketing price of foreign rice (called aroso in local parlance), this would no longer be affordable to the common man, hence his decision to embark on the local production and processing of rice which would be affordable, and this has been yielding results.
Visionary leadership is not by words of mouth but by action and the actualisation of plans that make life more abundant for the greatest number. This assertion is true of Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode who has in the last eighteen months executed many people-oriented policies with seamless ease.
The latest, which is novel in the country and which took many by surprise, is the agricultural collaboration between Lagos and Kebbi States for the production of rice. The end result of the agreement was the recent launch of the Lagos-Kebbi rice called LAKE rice.
It all started in March when the Lagos State Government entered into an agreement with the Kebbi State Government and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the massive production of locally grown long grain rice. It looked like the ordinary MoU we are all used to – the ones that would be signed and thereafter end up in the dustbin of both parties.
The MoU involved the government of Lagos State investing about N10 billion, with a rice production plant being built in Kebbi, which can produce 20 metric tonnes of rice per hour. LAKE Rice was out in record time as projected for December and it has been available for sale all over Lagos as planned, at a subsidised price of N12,000 per 50kg bag and N6,000 per 25kg bag, while imported rice ranges in price between N17,000 and N22,000 per 50kg bag.
The success of LAKE rice is very instructive. It shows Ambode as a thinking governor who had a vision and worked towards its realisation. Governor Ambode knew that with the skyrocketing price of foreign rice (called aroso in local parlance), this would no longer be affordable to the common man, hence his decision to embark on the local production and processing of rice which would be affordable, and this has been yielding results. Apart from the revenue which would accrue to the Lagos State government, this will also encourage local farmers to go into rice production, while thousands of direct and indirect jobs will be created in both Lagos and Kebbi States. The rice is not only available, it is equally affordable. Last week when the rice was launched, it was distributed across the 57 council areas (LGs and LCDAs) in Lagos State.
It is an irony that Lagos chose to partner with Kebbi State, instead of partnering with one of the South-West states in the spirit of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN). This perhaps could be explained in terms of the track record of Kebbi State as a rice growing state, just like Ebonyi is with the famous Abakaliki rice. More so, Sokoto, Kebbi, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Kogi and Ogun States are known for Ofada rice, which are locally grown. It is pertinent to note that Igbemo rice used to be popular until recently, when it was overtaken by Ofada rice produced in Ogun State.
It still baffles many observers that the once famous rice growing states of the South-West, especially Ekiti State, with the famous Igbemo rice, have taken the back seat in rice production. Ekiti State’s case is very pathetic in the sense that this is the time the rice farmers would have made a kill in sale of their brand of rice, which is in high demand all over the South-West.
Igbemo rice is so delicious that many people across the South-West, especially in Lagos, booked in advance to buy it and this may take up to a week before it got to one’s turn. Simple economic sense dictates that the high demand for the rice ought to have gingered the state government to seize the opportunity to tap into the mass production of the rice by encouraging local rice farmers to grow more.
This may have possibly encouraged Lagos State to partner with such South-West state government, even if it would still have partnered with Kebbi State. An investment of N5 billion in rice production in a state like Ekiti means a lot and this would have revolutionalised the agricultural sector in the area. Alas, this was not to be in a state where the major programme of the present administration in the state is stomach infrastructure. What a missed opportunity!
The Ambode example is a wake-up call to the governors of the South-West under the aegis of the DAWN. They should collaborate with Lagos State in the production of rice throughout the entire region. If it is only rice that they produce, they cannot still meet up with the rice demand of the South-West states alone, not to talk of that of the whole country or the export market. Rice farmers are the richest in the USA and I believe the same thing could be replicated here with the right policy from the government. Lagos has little or no land to grow rice in commercial quantity but it has the resources to make this happen in other states, as we have just seen in the case of Kebbi State.
Figures available from the Federal office of Statistics show that 2.1 million metric tonnes of rice are imported into the country yearly. This amounts to 42 million 50 kg bags worth N360 billion, while five million metric tonnes of rice, amounting to about 100 million 50kg bags, is consumed yearly in the country. This is a lot of revenue to local rice farmers if the right environment and tools are available to them.
Local rice production on a large scale will take many rice farmers out of poverty and make many millionaires across the value chain of clearing, planting, harvesting and processing. This will only happen if the problems militating against the commercial production of rice, such as a low technology base (mechanisation), high interest rates, poorly funded research institutes and corruption ridden fertiliser distribution and low public sector investment in agriculture are effectively tackled.
Ambode’s initiative of the LAKE rice is commendable and should be emulated by other governors, not only in the South-West but across the country. Little wonder that President Muhammadu Buhari shower encomiums on Ambode and his Kebbi State counterpart during the launch of the LAKE rice in Lagos. The President noted that, “What the two states have done is evidence of a new base being laid for the Nigerian economy, founded and propelled by agriculture, away from substantial dependence on oil and gas for national revenue”.
The production of the LAKE rice should be sustained and other South-West governors should take a cue from this by encouraging local farmers to grow rice in commercial quantities. The Lagos State government should not allow the LAKE rice to be hijacked by shrewd merchants who are only after huge profits to the detriment of the common people, for who it is meant. If that happens, prices will skyrocket beyond the reach of the common man and the purpose would have been defeated.
Congratulations to Lagosians who have been enjoying the real dividends of democracy since Ambode assumed office over a year ago.
Gbolahan Akintunde, a Public Affairs Analyst wrote from Surulere, Lagos.