UGBEKPE-EKPERI – The serene community of Ugbekpe-Ekperi, in Etsako Central Local Government Area of Edo State came alive on Tuesday, March 10, 2020 during the official commissioning of the Rice Mill Project built by the people of Japan in partnership with Life Above Poverty Organisation (LAPO). It was a joyous moment for the locals as they trouped out in their number to express their satisfaction with the project built at a total cost of $94,263 (N28,750,070.00).
The ultra-modern Ugbekpe-Ekperi Community Rice Mill Project, according to the Founder of LAPO and Managing Director of LAPO Microfinance Bank Limited, Dr. Godwin Ehigiamusoe, has the capacity to mill three tons of paddy rice per day and thus ensure accessibility of rural dwellers to improved quality rice output.
Dr. Ehigiamusoe, who was represented by the Acting Executive Director of LAPO, Dr. Obadiora Honestus Ayobami, observed that the rice mill project will bring succour to the community members who hitherto travelled long distances to mill and market their produce in neighbouring towns with the attendant inconveniences. He also noted that the project will improve the household income and livelihood of target beneficiaries as well as create job opportunities for the teeming youths.
Dr. Ehigiamusoe reiterated that LAPO was primarily designed to support low-income but economically active persons particularly women to break out of poverty, adding that LAPO is a pro-poor development organisation initiated in 1987, after the adoption of some aspects of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) by the Nigeria government which signaled a very trying period for Nigerians.
The Founder of LAPO informed that since inception, the organisation has been involved in the health and socio-economic empowerment of community members and playing a major role in addressing the challenges of malaria, HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health issues particularly in rural communities across the country. He disclosed that currently, LAPO is implementing a massive cancer awareness programme tagged the “LAPO Community Campaign for Cancer Control (LAPO-C4) in Edo, Lagos, Rivers, Imo and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in partnership with 13 Community-Based Organisations with five in Edo State.
Dr. Ehigiamusoe pointedly stated that the Ugbekpe-Ekperi Community Rice Mill Project is a commitment by the government and people of Japan together with LAPO to end poverty and hunger in Edo State and ultimately ensure that the people live healthy lives. He profusely appreciated the Japanese Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency, Kikuta Yutata for his commitment to the project and for his presence at the commissioning ceremony. Ehigiamusoe also extended appreciation to the Monarch, elders and members of the community for their support and urged them to ensure good maintenance of the facility.
On his part, the Ambassador of Japan to Nigeria, His Excellency Yutata Kikuta said he was pleased to be present at the official commissioning and hand-over ceremony of the Ugbekpe-Ekperi Community Rice Mill Project. He congratulated the elders and people of the community and appreciate all the stakeholders for their support throughout the process. The Japanese Ambassador particularly poured enconmious on LAPO, the implementing partner for the overwhelming support and logistics it provided.
The Japanese envoy disclosed that the government of Japan under the Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Project (GGP) scheme has for over two decades engaged numerous local and international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in funding over 170 projects in different parts of Nigeria worth over 12 million US dollars. He said these projects were basically designed at uplifting and improving the lives and livelihoods of the rural communities while at the same time enhancing the capacities of the NGOs involved.
According to Yutata Kikuta, the project for the construction of a rice mill in Ugbekpe-Ekperi Community is an example of the Japanese government GGP scheme which cost over N26 million (USD 85,523) and providing a rice parboiling building, rice parboiling equipment, rice mill equipment, office equipment, rice hauler, rice dehusker, soaking tanks, steaming tanks, a generator, bagging machine etc.
He noted that whereas local rice millers spend a long time milling their rice, incurring additional costs hiring manual labour and losing up to 20 percent of harvested rice due to damage in the process, the ultra-modern rice mill project was designed to facilitate the production of rice in few hours and safeguard wastages in the process.
Edo State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Hon. Richard Uyi Edebiri, who represented the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki at the event describe the project as “a great contribution of the tripartite arrangement of Edo State government, LAPO and Japan Embassy” noting that the state government provided the enabling environment, infrastructural facilities such as electricity and security for the project.
The Agriculture Commissioner commended LAPO for the initiative describing it as one of the non-governmental organisations that has responded to the continuous call by the state government for collaboration in agricultural sector development. He said LAPO was living up to expectation in its corporate social responsibility and in partnership with the state government not only in agriculture but also in meeting the needs of thousands of individuals within and outside the state.
Hon. Edebiri stated that Edo State government, under the leadership of Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has keyed into the Buhari administration’s vision and roadmap in agriculture towards attaining self-sufficiency in food production in a sustainable manner where in rice production (farming processing and distribution) is a major target amongst other crops.
He said the state government has consistently provided the enabling environment to ensure optimal rice production and processing of which processing mills such as the Ekperi Rice Mill can now be seen in Ugboha in Esan South East LGA by Agrotek, saying that Governor Obaseki has consistently maintained a tall and clear vision for agricultural production in the state.
Edebiri disclosed that the Edo State government gave a projection of producing 17,000 tonnes of rice annually which, when actualised, will make the state the highest producer of rice in the South – South geo-political zone of the country and thanked LAPO and the Japanese Embassy for helping to realise that dream.
“LAPO gives credit facilities to farmers, traders and students and the state government under the leadership of Godwin Obaseki is fully aware of the enormous contributions of LAPO and has requested me to express his heartfelt gratitude to the Founder of LAPO and your team of administrative technocrats in your efforts at joining hands with us to build individuals and build the state economy.”
While also expressing the state government’s appreciation to the Japanese Embassy for the enablement provided in making the Ekperi Rice Mill Project a huge success, the commissioner recalled the long-standing relationship between Nigeria and Japan in terms of agricultural and technological exchange, describing Japan as the hub of oriental technology.
“For the people of Ugbekpe-Ekperi, I want to enjoin you to see this project as your own. You have the responsibility to use it wisely and protect in. You are to kindly cooperate with the workers and experts here to ensure its sustainability and efficiency. All forms of misuse, theft and vandalism must be avoided like a plague.”
An elated royal father of Ekperi, the Egiegbai II of Ekperi Kingdom, Alhaji D.Y.E. Kanoba profusely thanked LAPO and the Japanese Ambassador for making the rice mill a reality. He recalled that sometime last year, when LAPO officials approached him for the citing of the project, he told them he wanted the project to be close to the palace so he could monitor it. He expressed joy that it had become a reality. He encouraged Ekperi rice farmers to fully engage in the production of Ekperi Royal Rice, assuring that he would be on ground to supervise it.
In his excitement, the Egiegbai II of Ekperi kingdom, Alhaji D.Y.E. Kanoba conferred a chieftaincy title on the Japanese Ambassador, Kikuta Yutaka as the “Emesomiake of Ekperi Kingdom” meaning “Good things are what we want.”