Rice, a food commodity, initially occasionally consumed by households, mostly ceremonially, soon became a daily household staple, a first choice at public gatherings and a common food item in our growing fast food outlets.What governments and individual consumers have failed to reckon with, over the years, was the insidious destruction the growing appetite for rice has caused to our economy, especially when two-third of the rice consumed is imported.
Four decades of our food balance sheet history were filled with rhetoric, regrets and rots arising from a decline in local food production profile while the food import bill was on the rise.
A vibrant population is also discouraged and displaced from farming. The economic shock is further compounded by the absence of viable alternative employments for the displaced.
The diagnosis of the importation conundrum is a worthwhile exercise if we really must appreciate the level of damage that it has done to our economy psyche and the need to move out of the quagmire we have found ourselves for 50 years.
Import licenses, tariff waivers, and other import-related incentives became a part of government annual policies to the detriment of the economy.
But under the Spirit of enterprise of Sir Benedict Ayade administration, a hard look was cast at this and it was decided that Cross River, as a State, cannot afford to continue to toe this line ever so blindly.
This paved the way for the rice green revolution, an intervention that led – within the past four years–to a massive reduction in Cross River State dependence on rice importation.
Ayade readiness to bring hope immediately he became the Governor in 2015 served as a springboard for possibility thinking, involving the inputs of local and international experts assembled by the Ayade led Administration to think through on how to produce massively .
Many Communities were systematically and methodically selected for the dry season incentivised irrigated rice production, a project that committed a large hectares of farmland to dry season rice production, yielding millions of metric tons of rice within five months, keeping the farmers busy at a time of the year they were traditionally idle, and putting more money into their pockets.
The readiness of Governor Benedict Ayade to turn things around and Change the narratives, has led to a policy direction of entrenching the dry season rice farming into Cross River State agricultural calendar.
The dry season intervention, being the first of such an attempt, arose out of the panic scenario that was painted by many economic analysts after critical analysis. It was an emergency response then, with limited time to plan and execute, a chosen line of decision, taken instead of succumbing to self-serving suggestions coming from traders who would rather that Nigeria import food to make up for perceived losses arising from importation.
It is too premature for pundit to cast aspersion on the rice revolution programme implemented across communities simply because it has not done a magic, or because its results are not felt everywhere yet.
The confounding variables in agriculture are more complex, more complicated and more far-reaching in implications than in other sectors.
The journey to make Cross River State a global powerhouse in food production is ongoing. The results achieved in just few years give a signal of progress and a cause to cheer.
The rice revolution agenda in Cross River State is not only aimed at boosting production but also at embarking on wealth creation.
To further build the resilience of food system, the state government built a rice seedlings factory with many rice Mills springing up across the state.
Times no doubt have changed. Considering the dynamics in the nation’s agriculture, especially Cross River State in the past four years, where the jinx seem to have been broken.
With the Cross River State efforts being complemented by other States, Nigeria will soon be free from rice imports and will produce, not just enough for local consumption, but will have excess to store and even export!
Cross Riverians need to be patient and see the positive side of the revolution taking place on the fields, translating to improved rural economies, rising volume of locally-produced rice stock and freeing our economy from the stranglehold of decades of import-dependency.
Cross Riverians are now getting to know better and appreciate the paradigm shift that is unlocking the potential of Cross River agriculture sector as efforts has been made to fight what was perhaps the most incipient corruption that has been entrenched in the rice sector.
With Cross River State being in the fore front among other states for a rice revolution and with the support Sir Benedict Ayade has shown to awaken the rice production,the state and the nation is rising from the ashes of decades of neglect of its agriculture sector. This no doubt is worth cheering about.