Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Sorry State of Otukpo Rice Mill

AMOS ABBA writes on the dilapidating state of Benue’s Otukpo rice mill; a once burgeoning enterprise now cast in despair and under productivity.  

In the hot and humid sun of the Benue region, building number 2, located within the premises of the popular Otukpo rice mill looks undignified.  Wearing a rusted corrugated roof which bears the insignia of old age, its deserted parking lot reflects the sorry state of a rice mill created over 50 years ago for commercial purposes.

The scanty flow of customers in and out of the building does not typify the flurry of activities that usually welcomes the peak of the harvest season when paddy rice was milled and processed at the mill in the past.

Valentine Egwa was working on a faulty rice huller, a machine that removes husk from paddy rice when the reporter met him.  A graduate of psychology from the University of Jos, Egwa’s failed attempt to clinch a white – collar job compelled him to get involved in the production process of rice at the mill since 1997.  Ever since acquiring rice hullers some years ago, he has become an employer of labour at the mill. However, Egwa is quick to renounce the traditional practices involved in the trade.

He said: “The problem affecting Otukpo rice mill is the crude methods used to process rice locally. This makes the rice not to be stone free, making customers prefer imported rice to locally processed ones”.

Records of observation at the mill confirmed Egwa’s assertion. Many of the hullers used in processing the rice are aged and archaic, with many having been in existence as far back as 80 years ago. The poor facilities make it impossible for the mill to compete with marketers of foreign rice.

Otukpo rice mill with its sketchy history is arguably the first commercial rice milling plant in West Africa, set- up and managed by the defunct Idoma technical trading company (I.T.T.C). Located in Otukpo local government area of Benue state, the mill was created to provide gainful employment opportunities to the Idoma- speaking people of the middle belt and Benue state in particular.

At the time the mill was established, projections were set that Otukpo would be a commercial nerve center in the middle belt region of the country. The hope of the projection was hinged on the fact that the mill would attract traders from different parts of the country to Otukpo for the purchase of its locally processed rice. The rice mill once boasted of a staff strength of 3,000 people involved in the different stages of rice processing, working day and night, equipped with over 200 milling engines spanning over 20 hectares of land.

It was the largest employer of labour in its heyday in Otukpo and served as a veritable source of livelihood to many people. But those were the past glories; adversity weighed in on Otukpo rice mill in the late nineties.

Undermined by decrepit infrastructure, under-utilized labour force and under-performance; major customers from different states across the country no longer patronized the mill. The long distance involved in transportation of the rice products also contributes in no small measure to the dwindling fortunes of the mill.

by Amos Abba

1 comment:

  1. But now the China Nigeria deal of establishing 40 rice mills at the end of this year can bring a big change in Nigeria and rice industry of Nigeria.