WACOT Rice, Ownership And Food Security

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Kebbi state has been in the news; and for a good reason. Since the rice revolution of Kebbi state began barely two years ago, every concerned Nigerian has been visibly elated by the news coming out of the state. Rice is a staple food in Nigeria. Just like bread, it has come to stay on the tables of all homes in the country. Any news, positive or negative about rice is of utmost concern to Nigerians.

When Governor Atiku Bagudu announced a plan to open up the business of rice farming in the state, in order to take advantage of the rich Fadama landscape of the state, the attention of most Nigerians was promptly captured. In fairness to the Atiku Bagudu administration, its liberal policies in that regard had helped greatly in attracting investors from within and outside the country. The Central Bank had, in response to those policies, invested billions in providing soft loans to rice farmers while many wealthy individuals including people like Senaror Adamu Aliero, ventured in to widen the scope and today a large chunk of the Fadama areas have been tilled and have provided jobs to many people. Aliero is the sole owner of the hugely successful Labana Rice Factory in Birnin Kebbi.

On the basis of opening up the rice production process and introducing the business angle to it, the Kebbi state government under Atiku Bagudu deserves all the commendation. I must stress here that the purpose of this piece is to highlight the importance of foreign direct investment using the ownership of of Wacot Rice Company, which was commissioned by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo in Argungu couple of days ago as a case study. The rumor mill had spread the falsehood that the N10B factory is owned either solely or in partnership with other companies by the Kebbi state government. It has become necessary to clear the air about the ownership in order to set the records straight and to clear all doubts about its ownership. Since the commissioning, politicians in Kebbi and elsewhere have made attempts to make some political capital out of the seeming controversy.

Wacot Rice Company is a privately and largely owned by Indians. Wacot – the business and merchandising brand has been in business in parts of the North for a very long time. In Funtua, Kaduna state, the company had been in the business of cotton production and was owner of the popular Ginnery there. It was later that Wacot ventured into Rice milling in an effort to diversify and to respond to the demands of today in order to stay afloat. Its entry into Kebbi coincided with the emergence of the Buhari administration as well as the new policy of diversification of the economy and the emphasis on self sufficiency in food production occasioned by drastic fall in the prices of oil. When the Indians made their entry into Kebbi, the land they sort was reported to be owned by the Emir of Argungu, who, sources said, promptly sold it out to them, viewing the development as critical to the development of Argungu Emirate, Kebbi state and the country at large.

The Kebbi state government got involved at the level of ensuring an ‘’enabling environment’’ and conceding a 5-year tax relief regime for the company. Other than this, the Kebbi state government had no other collaboration either at technical level or at counterpart funding. Wacot Rice is fully and wholly owned by business concerns of Indian origin, and this is a welcome development. Kebbi is gradually emerging as hub of an all-year round rice cultivation, taking advantage of its rich Fadama landscape. The state is endowed with a very large expense of arable land that has not yet been fully cultivated. With a very hardworking reservoir of manpower and one of Nigeria’s most peaceful states, Kebbi can still accommodate many more rice mills to create millions of jobs, make Nigeria self sufficient in food production and conserve foreign exchange.

The arable land endowment in Kebbi, has given birth to a joint venture effort between Lagos and Kebbi states. Lagos state has also pumped in millions of Naira into the joint effort. LAKE Rice which stands for Lagos – Kebbi, has been so successful that it is reported to be waxing stronger by the day. It is expected that when it fully blossoms into a dream venture, the massive importation of rice from the Asian Tiger countries will be a thing of the past. It is also anticipated that the collaboration between Lagos and Kebbi would become an ample example worthy of emulation by other states as a means of revitalizing the nation’s economy through local sourcing of solutions to critical issues of development as well as enhance national cohesion between the various nationalities by whittling down the plethora of agitations and the open threat of balkanization which have become stronger lately.

Nigeria is indeed blessed with the potentials to be among the most prosperous nations in the world. It has one of Africa’s most active populations, the arable land to feed itself and a promising economy to attract investors all around the world. If you take away the Boko Haram insurgency from the North Eastern region, another very vast arable land for massive all-year round cultivation of all staple crops unfolds. Like the North Western part of Nigeria, the North East and the North Central have the potential to feed Nigeria and beyond and to provide the raw materials required for industrial development to take place. In this piece I have identified two critical shortcomings that have stymied growth of our economy. One is leadership deficit/corruption and the other is the high rate of insecurity that is daily scaring away potential investors. Without foreign direct investment and with a largely corrupt and insecure environment, this country will continue to find it difficult to attain the sustainability required to ensure growth.