Dr Abiola Olagunju is a rice processor, animal scientist and lecturer in Ibadan, Oyo State. She spoke with FEMI IBIROGBA on the sideline of farmers’ exhibition at the House of Chiefs, Secretariat, Ibadan, to celebrate the World Food Day on October 16.
You are a processor of local rice. How long have you been processing locally?
I have been processing rice for the past five years.
Before now, how was the response of Nigerians to locally processed rice?
The response has been very poor. In fact, I stood firm that I will propagate and promote the use of local rice because of its nutrients. We should know that it is not in the planting of rice that we had problem but in the processing and packaging. The rice that comes from foreign countries has been in storage for two to three years and for it to still remain with qualities, they add chemicals to them for preservation. And one thing you have to know is that when it gets to the elastic period of the rice, you will never see pests on it; rather, you will see it getting powdery. Why should humans eat whatever insects do not eat?
People did not respond to local rice because of stones and the quality of processing. Are there better ways of doing it now in small-scale?
Yes, there are better ways. And it has started. The local rice we have around here now is polished like the imported rice.
What has changed?
Stoning removal has changed. Chaff removal has changed. All the unwanted materials in the rice have been removed totally.
How do you remove the stone now?
Before, after per-boiling, the next thing was to spread paddies on the floor to dry. They just spread out there to dry. Of course, they weren’t producing in large quantity. People tasted it and saw that it was nice, but people are conscious about their health because of the stones. But now, we realise that the stone and chaff were what had been hindering buyers from patronage Nigeria.
Nigeria has closed the borders, forcing people to buy locally produced rice. Do you think farmers can produce enough rice in the country?
Let me tell you that all these so-called imported rice are not really imported. They are our local but re-bagged. If the border is now closed, why won’t the rice be available to us?
But figures from international organisations and Africa Rice Centre indicate that Nigeria is not yet sufficient in rice production. So, how are we to close the gaps?
The gap has been closed already. Farmers are now confident to go back to the farm and produce because they have the market. Since they know they have the market, they will go back to the farm. They will produce it more because they have the market to sell. And it will encourage our GDP.
With the average price of the local rice, do you think it is affordable to Nigerians?
I will not say it is totally affordable to all Nigerians because I have to look at the high and the low. But as time goes, and when production increases, every state would have a producer of local rice. Before now, I met a farmer that had about eight hectares of land. He produced his rice but could not sell. But now that he has heard that rice has hit the market, he will go back to the farm and start cultivating and be a proud farmer of local rice.
Some people are advocating that each of the state in the South-West and South-South should also develop irrigation facilities so that beyond the rain-fed agriculture, they can also farm round the year. Do you think this can work?
It can work. Whatever you set your mind at, you will do it. Nothing is not achievable. I know that the government can do it in each state because when the humongous response to local rice comes, they will look into that because it is going to encourage the government IGR. Very soon, everyone will forget to buy foreign rice if the government decision stands.
How would you advise Nigerians on adjusting to the taste of local rice?
There is nothing to adjust. We should rather be happy that Nigerian rice is here. When you eat it, you eat life. Because Nigerian rice has a great taste and it is delicious. It is fresh and nutritious. You get all your required nutrients from local rice.
What is the nutritional value of local rice?
You know that different varieties of rice have different nutritional values. All I can tell you is the nutritional facts. Local rice is high in fibers, and any food high in fiber will reduce the accumulation of facts. Secondly, the rate of digestion of the rice that we eat would be slower because it will be broken down slowly, and would slowly go down to the blood stream, thereby making sure that at the end of the day, you have the required nutrients distributed into the blood stream and giving you the required nutrients. It reduces cholesterol, and diabetics can have local rice as their friend because of its high fiber content.