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.

Daily Trust - - STAR FEATURE - By Tadaferua Ujorha who was in Abaka­liki

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

mar­ket.

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

Abaka­liki rice.

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’.

PHO­TOS TADAFERUA UJORHA

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.

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