Consumers of rice in Lagos State will soon heave a sigh of relief as Eko rice, a product of the state-of-the-art Imota Rice Mill, will be available for sale in December 2022, Oluwarotimi Fashola, special adviser on rice initiative to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, has disclosed.
He made the disclosure when a team of commodities brokers led by Onyenwechukwu Patrick Ezeagu, chairman, board of the Lagos Commodities and Futures Exchange (LCFE), visited the plant to assess the progress made thus far, and in continuation of the integration of all the stakeholders in the nation’s agric value chain.
Other team members include Akinsola Akeredolu-Ale, managing director and chief executive officer of LCFE; Fatima Abeni Lawal, company secretary; Nkechi Obi and Manasseh Gbede of LCFE’s corporate affairs unit, commodities brokers, among others.
“We are on a fact finding mission and we believe the partnership will work. It is important for all the stakeholders to make this project sustainable because by the time this mill is fully operational, it will be beneficial to the Lagos State Government, residents in the state, commodities brokers, aggregators, off-takers and other stakeholders in the nation’s rice value chain,” Ezeagu said.
Rice, a major staple in Nigeria, witnessed inflationary pressure as the price of 50kg bag of rice surged to as much as N48, 000 in the last few weeks from about N32,000 at half-year, due to the massive flooding that destroyed many rice farms in the country.
While welcoming the commodities brokers, Akeredolu-Ale said Oluwarotimi Fashola is a veteran in rice production having worked on a number of rice projects locally and internationally.
“Fashola is a highly experienced professional in the rice value chain and has been involved in the massive project that we see here at Imota Rice Mill from inception to date. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the mill will be commissioned in December,” he said
Responding to enquiries, Fashola said Imota Rice Mill is a first of its kind in Nigeria. Its machines were procured from Buhler, a German firm and one of the leading makers of rice processing technologies in the world. He commended Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for ensuring the completion of the project despite the initial hurdles it faced.
According to him, the production system in the plant is automated in that once it is fed with paddy rice, no hands will touch it until it is packaged in bags.
“Buhler not only sold the machines to us, it also supported us with expatriates to ensure smooth installation and operations. An indigenous company, Henry Carr, under the supervision of Buhler does the installation of the machines the way the manufacturer wants it. We equally have our own engineers from the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture,” Fashola said.
He added that another firm, FAO CON, is the project consultant that ensures that all the parties to the project work in harmony.
“This project cannot function without water. Therefore, the water engineering services such as treatment, filtration, and reverse osmosis, among others are being handled by another domestic firm which was selected because it had rendered in the past the same services to global brands such as Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Nigerian Breweries,” Fashola added, noting that when the brokers come for commissioning in December, it is rice from the plant they will see, not imported or stage-managed rice.
“We are conscious of sustainability. The state government cannot invest huge sums of money in a project like this without planning ahead how the plant would be operated sustainably. It has been designed to continuously have paddy rice from the South-West Agricultural Company (SWAgCo) and farmers in the northern part of the country,” Fashola emphasised, adding that part of the sustainability plan is to involve WACOT, one of the producers of premium rice brands in the country.
Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial centre, consumes two million metric tonnes of rice annually, with the target set for Imota Rice Mill to be the leading producer of premium brands in the market.
For aggregators that plan to supply paddy rice to the plant, the humidity must not be more than 14 percent as the mill is expected to process about a third of the rice consumed in Lagos State annually.
Nigeria’s rice milling industry is fragmented with many players. The smallest are those in the cottage segment, followed by the non-integrated segment, and then, the integrated segment of the market. The players in the cottage segment produce between 20 to 30 percent of the rice consumed in Nigeria annually. The players in the non-integrated segment produce the bulk of the rice eaten in Nigeria, in the region of 60 percent, while those in the integrated segment produce about 10 percent of the market needs.