Why ‘Abakali ‘Abakaliki Abakaliki iki rice’ is famous
This farmer’s delight can be cultivated thrice a year, is astonishingly sweet when cooked, and has no black or broken bits, all these may explain its growing popularity.
In front of the long building are small pyramids of the famous Abakaliki rice, and these stretch as far as the eye can see within the rice mill. Sunlight falls upon the heaps, and there are countless traders and customers, left and right of the pyramids. There is a lot of activity all around. The mill attracts a huge crowd of workers and traders.
So, it is very alive. The time is noon. Then a man begins to speak “One evening I was in a hotel in Gombe, the capital of Gombe state. All of a sudden the police came and arrested me. It was when I mentioned that I hail from Abakaliki that they released me without paying a kobo. Once I mentioned Abakaliki, the police officers exclaimed with a laugh ‘Abakaliki rice’. In their minds Abakaliki and its rice are one and the same. So, the popularity of the rice earned me a release from the police. I will never forget that day.”
Benjamin Chibike, is a rice trader at the Abakaliki Rice Mill, and he was responding to a question on why the rice is popular, when he proceded to narrate the above story. His words “They reacted to the name, and
“Every 6 months or less, fresh rice enters the
I was released without paying a Kobo.”
He explains that Ebonyi state was created on account of the existence of its famous rice mill and its rich rice yielding soils, and adds “There is no other industry in the state apart from this one, which employs hundreds of workers.”
On the rice mill, he says it is made up of 3 sections with each line having 40 buildings, and 500 persons working in each building. There are ten different species of Abakaliki rice grown within the central area of the town, he states.
Joseph Ununu is the Chairman Abakaliki Rice Mills Limited, and naturally knows a lot about rice and its cultivation in the state. He comes from a family that has always been involved in the cultivation of rice in Abakaliki. According to him “My father and grandfather had been growing rice in this area for many decades. I inherited this ability from my parents. The cultivation of rice is the major activity people engage in here.”
On Abakaliki Rice, he says “Abakaliki rice is a very good species of rice grown here. Why it is far better than foreign rice is because at one level, it can be grown several times a year. Secondly, it has a very good taste. If you add crayfish, then you get all you desire of a meal of rice. It has all the nutrients expected of rice.”
He then explains that the company has plans of growing the rice three times this year,and adds that the federal government has provided pumping machines which will be used to irrigate the rice,and allow for several seasons of cultivation this year. He explains that the Abakaliki rice mill is an old rice mill which commenced work early in the 1960s, and was first located at 65 Gunning road. From there it relocated to Ogoja road, and then finally ended up at its present location. He adds that the Abakaliki rice mill is privately owned, and does not receive government funding of any sort.
Oyota Sunday, another rice trader at the mill, agrees with the chairman, and says that Abakaliki rice is a very famous species, boasting “Irrespective of the season, there is no time a person comes here, that he won’t find huge amounts of Abakaliki rice to take away even by the trailer load. Rice is the main crop we cultivate here,and all of us are farmers.”
On what makes Abakaliki rice different from other species of rice, he says “First, it is of high nutritional value. Secondly, it can be grown once every 6 months, and it does not have to be polished while being processed, as often occurs with foreign rice. Thus, every 6 months or less, fresh rice enters the market.”
He adds that there are no losses which sometimes occur owing to over storage, and adds that the most popular species of the rice is the one known as Mass. Other species include 306, R8,R5,, Mandela, Brown rice and Geisha.
On other qualities of the rice, Benjamin Chibike explains “When you cook Abakaliki rice, the emerging aroma is pleasant, and it is as sweet as the famous Uncle Ben’s rice. It has no chaff,and no black or broken bits.”
The traders mention that rice from Abakaliki is taken to Portharcourt, Lagos, Onitsha, Enugu, Imo, Umuahia and Owerri, and many other parts of the country, for sale.
But there are numerous challenges in the cultivation of the famous rice. Benjamin Chibike says “We don’t have tractors here, and everything is done manually. This is a major setback. Also, fertilizers are very expensive,
is not enough water at this time, and the machines have cooling tanks. So, the machines need water. The company has drilled a motorised borehole, but this is not enough, the chairman says. Also, the parts for the maintenance of the machines at the mill, are quite expensive to acquire. But the greatest challenge faced at the mill, is the fact of neglect by the government.
Joseph Ununu emphasises “The greatest challenge we face here now, is the fact that government does not give us even a little assistance. Despite all this patrons come from as far as Abuja and Lagos to buy rice here. If you come in December, which is the peak period in terms of sales here, you won’t be able to finds a way in, because of the great crowd that
Sacks of rice at the mill.
The Abakaliki rice mill employs hundreds of staff and casual workers.
Mr Oyota Sunday points to something of interest.
‘I was released when I told the police that I hail from Abakaliki’.
Its splendid aroma when cooked, the fact that it is free of broken bits, and that it can be grown several times a year, have made it famous.