The Ebonyi State government has set up three new modern rice milling centres in three different locations in a bid to modernise and boost rice production in the state.
The new rice mills, one in each of the three senatorial districts, is to allow each rice miller to go to any hub of their choice for modern rice milling business, according to the secretary to Ebonyi State government (SSG), Fidelis Mbam.
“We want to bring the future Abakaliki rice to global standards, since it already has very good taste and high nutritional value due to its freshness”, Mbah said.
Ebonyi State is the home of Abakaliki rice, named after the state capital which hosts a rice milling hub that has been in existence since 1962.
The state government, however, says that it is high time the thriving rice hub moved from just producing rice for domestic consumption to producing also for the export market.
“The next stage is to graduate to polishing of rice so that it can compete internationally”, Mbah told BusinessDay.
Abakaliki is hub for rice from states as far as Nasarawa, Taraba and other parts of the South East, BusinessDay learnt. Rice farmers from the Northern part of Nigeria and South East all take their rice husks to the Abakaliki milling centre where it is polished and stone particles removed, then bagged for sale to other parts of Nigeria.
Buyers come from as far as Lagos and even Cameroon to the Abakaliki rice mill to buy, traders at the market told BusinessDay.
At the peak of trade, 10 trailer loads of rice, each carrying 50 kilogrammes of rice drive out of the Abakaliki rice hub daily heading to different destinations in Nigeria, said Joseph Ununu, head of the Abakaliki rice milling company.
Business at the hub has, however, dropped in recent times due to the bid by the government to relocate the rice hub from Abakaliki city to rural areas, which the traders say they are challenging in court.
“Our challenge is that the relocation is too sudden and the government has not provided any form of financial assistance to make the movement easier”, Ununu told BusinessDay.
Ununu also expressed the fear that the new rice mills which they are being migrated to will be managed by the government.
“We do not think the government has the capacity to manage the rice mills”, he said.