IN many parts of Nigeria, the government of Lagos State is still on top of the rice talk chart. Rice talk has been going on everywhere in the country since Nigeria’s foreign income fell by as much as 50 percent and the government curtailed importation to balance the budget. The hammer fell on imported rice, which, for decades, had become a staple food nation-wide. The import ban, which was to encourage local production, forced prices up, sometimes up to three folds, and led to an outcry against the government action. The government of land-deficient Lagos State, bubbling with cash, struck a deal with farmers in cash-strapped but land-blessed Kebbi State to grow rice and, by December last year, came up with what has been reported to be one hundred million 50kg bags of rice.
This was an award-winning venture psychically, economically and politically, even if at 1 million bag a year, it scratched only the surface of an annual import of more than one hundred million 50kg bags of rice. Psychically, it showed Nigerians they could be less dependent on other countries for food. Politically, it had the tendency to unite the country. Economically, it not only created jobs and saved the country foreign exchange, it provided, as well, the foundation for an export drive through capacity building.
But with all due respect to the government of Lagos State for this uncommon achievement at the level of a state government in Nigeria, I would like to assign, elsewhere, the top place in the rice talk chart. I believe it belongs to a gentleman, also from South-Western Nigeria, named ROTIMI WILLIAMS.
I do not know if he has any relationship with the families of Chief F.R.A. Williams, Nigeria’s legal octopus now of blessed memory, or of Chief Akintola Williams, the accountancy giant. Mr Rotimi Williams, aged 36 this year, is one of the few Nigerians featured in FORBES magazine.
According to Wikipedia, “FORBES is an American business magazine published bi-weekly, it features original articles on finance, industry, investing, and marketing topics. Forbes also reports on related subjects such as technology, communications, science, and law…Primary competitors in the national business magazine category include Fortune and Bloomberg Businessweek. The magazine is well known for its lists and rankings, including its lists of the richest Americans (the Forbes 400) and rankings of world’s top companies (the Forbes Global 2000). Another well-known list by the magazine is the The World’s Billionaires list.”
In one of its editions last year, Forbes described Mr Rotimi Williams as the second biggest rice merchant in Nigeria with 45 thousand hectares (yes, 45 thousand hectares) of rice farmland in Nasarawa State. Of him, Forbes says:
“Nigeria consumes more than five million metric tonnes of rice every year, with a significant portion of its consumption needs sourced from imports. Rotimi Williams an ambitious 35 years old Nigerian entrepreneur and rice farmer is on a crest to change that.
“Williams, a former journalist is the owner of KEREKSUK Rice farm, the second largest commercial rice farm in Nigeria by land size. His farm, which is situated in Nasarawa State in Northern Nigeria, currently sits on 45,000 hectares and employs more than 600 natives of Nasarawa.
“I recently caught up with the buddy entrepreneur in Lagos, and had a brief chat with him where he recounted his journey and mused on how Nigeria can attain self-sufficiency in rice production in the near future.
“What is your educational and professional background?
“I attended Kings College in Lagos. After attending secondary school, I proceeded to obtain my first degree at the University of Aberdeen where I graduated with a degree in Economics. I also obtained a Masters degree in Economics from the same institution. My crest for more knowledge led me to enroll for another Masters degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, where I gained an M.Sc in Finance and Development Studies.
“Upon graduation I landed a role as an analyst at the European Economics and Financial center in London. Afterwards, Euro’s money Magazine employed me, where I covered the African space. I would say that this is where my journey truly started.”
“Given your background as a journalist, what informed your decision to venture into rice farming?
“While at Eurosmoney, I had the opportunity to travel around a few African countries. These trips exposed me to countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia and Ghana. A common trend amongst the aforementioned nations is Agriculture. Agriculture is at the very core of these countries and this got me thinking. After a few more trips, I decided to move back to Nigeria and sink my feet into the agricultural space. Nigeria remains the largest economy in Africa from both a GDP perspective and also the strength of the size of her population. Upon my arrival back in Nigeria, I got a job at a premier bank where i was promised to sit on the Agriculture Desk. My hope was that I would gain enough knowledge of the Nigerian agricultural industry and develop myself from there.
“Fortunately, the Agriculture Desk at the bank never quite achieved its set goals. I pushed hard for the bank to adopt policies and gain inroads into the agricultural industry, but my attempts were somewhat frustrated. I sincerely feel that the bank was not fully ready to launch into the agricultural space. As my frustration grew, I decided to quit banking and planned to go it alone into agriculture. Frankly, my decision led to challenging sojourn as attempts to raise funding with my partner proved difficult. We started a structured trade and commodity finance company. After a while, I started consulting for small agriculture companies seeking to raise capital both locally and internationally.”
“You currently own the second largest rice farm in Nigeria with 45,000 hectares in Nasarawa, Nigeria. What is the story behind your acquisition of such vast land, and what are some of the challenges you have encountered in farming in the volatile Northern Region?
“Two years have passed and we still had no funds, so I made an offer to the farm owner that, with a 50-50 split, I would develop the farm with both personal funds and external funding. He agreed and that is how I became part owner of 17, 296 hectares of farmland. Knowing that Agriculture would become the integral area of focus in Nigeria, I was bullish and rammed up the land to 55,000 hectares. I later parted with my partner as a result of unallied views and strategy. I maintained 45,000 hectares for myself and today we have started producing with our quality puddy being sold to major milling companies in Nigeria. However, I must add the following. I often have people ask how I learned about farming, as everyone thinks you need a special degree in Agriculture to be a farmer, but I always tell them the truth, I learnt it all on google.
“I have learnt over the years that if you approach people with respect, even more so when one seeks to setup a business venture, having a healthy sense of community makes all the difference in attending one’s set objectives. I lean heavily on the wisdom approach of the indigenes to carry out farming on such a scale here in Nasarawa.
“In the news today, there is a lot of talk about farmers clashing with Fulani herdsmen, but we think our approach has been successful. We created a scheme called THE FARM OUT OF POVERTY INITIATIVE. Under the FOOD, we are able to train approximately 100 Fulani women in rice farming at the same time employing their men as our security and, finally, feeding their cattle from the rice straw after harvest. Today, we live in peace and all work towards the success of the farm.”
The story of Mr Rotimi Williams suggests a Nigerian capacity for self-sufficiency in rice production. Williams will develop his farm to full capacity use in 2020. Today, he produces 160,000 50kg bags of rice a year. His land holding, at 45,000 hectares (1 hectare equals 15plots), is 675,000 Nigerian standard plots of land. Nigeria consumes about five million tonnes of rice every year. This is about 100million 50kg bags of rice a year. This shows that 100 farmers such as the government of Lagos State and Mr Rotimi Williams can feed Nigeria and export surplus rice yield.
The picture would be a dream come true for me and those people in South-Western Nigeria who remember that it was Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s farm settlements which formed cornerstones of the prosperity of this region today. And I believe it has been adopted, with modifications, by the Buhari Administration to lift Nigeria from the FOURTH WORLD to the THIRD WORLD. We deceive ourselves in Nigeria when we think we belong to the third world. We belong to the fourth world.
Fourth world nations are those which cannot feed themselves and depend on food imports to survive. Third world nations can feed themselves but lack industrial capacity. Second world nations have industrial and machinery muscles and can feed themselves. First world nations are Information Age nations, in addition to possessing industrial muscle and the capacity to feed themselves, they are the nations which are milking the world through incomes from WHATSAPP, FACEBOOK, TWITTER, YOUTUBE, INSTAGRAM, LINKED-IN etc. Any time you buy internet data in Nigeria you are making money for a first world nation. If all goes well, Nigeria’s agrarian revolution should begin this year, and rice, in particular, should become cheaper next year. So far, President Mohammadu Buhari has been lucky that hunger in the streets has not led to public revolt. That’s probably because he is trusted to be a man who will not steal money from the public purse, and, so, Nigerians are prepared to give him time to sort out the Jonathan Administration mess. And now that the petrol-dollar train has gone with Jonathan, the Agro-dollar train is thundering in with Buhari. The evidence?
Mayowa Akintoye is a young graduate from Babcock University. Her father, Dotun Akintoye, is a Town and Regional Planner, real estate consultant and, recently, a farmer. Four weeks ago, Mayowa came to Lagos and telephoned her father to meet her the next day at Arepo, a settlement on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Mr Akintoye was alarmed. What was his daughter going to do in a place which, recently, had become known for kidnapping? He told her not to go. She said she was going to attend a seminar. Still, he declined. Next day, he called to ask if she had called off the trip. But she replied that she was half way there. He got into his car, hoping to get her back home.
When Mr Akintoye arrived at the address, he found a seminar in agriculture was going on and that Mayowa had even registered him as a member of a Co-operative to be formed. He was forced to listen to the speakers, and became persuaded that the Federal government had now taken agriculture seriously. Before he and Mayowa left for home, the seminar group appointed Mr Akintoye the President of their Co-operative society.
The seminar participants learned that the Federal Government has pumped a huge sum of money to the Central Bank for agricultural expansion in Nigeria this year. Every State has been selected to produce a particular commodity for Nigeria. Some Northern states such as Kaduna, Kebbi and Gigawa are to produce rice and soy bean. Ogun state is to produce maize.
Imo, Anambra and Enugu are to produce rice. Already Coscharis is growing rice on 900 hectares of land in Imo state on self-funding bases.
Co-operative societies are to be formed in every state. Every Co-operative member will be allotted two hectares to grow the crop allotted to the state. In Ogun State, the crop is maize. The Co-operatives do not have to worry about how to sell the maize. The government has already appointed an UPTAKER, Premier Feeds who will buy all the maize produced. The Co-operative members have nothing to do with manual labour. Each Co-operative Farmer will be given a Federal loan of #800,000. But the cash will not pass through his or her hands. In Ogun State, it will be held in custody by HERITAGE BANK. The bank will hire ploughs, planters and harvesters. Natives will be employed for weeding and other manual work. Co-operative farmers are only to visit the farms and ensure everything is running well. For these farm visits, Heritage Bank will give every Co-operative farmer #30,000. Each would-be farmer would pay #10,000 to attend a seminar run by Business Support Academy Nigeria Limited, which also “aggregates” farmer co-operatives for the Anchor Borrowers Project. Next, #7,000 is paid to register as Co-operative member, #2,000 to open a special account with Heritage Bank into which the #800,000 Federal loan will be paid and #50,000 for expressing interest to lease two hectares of land in a cropping season. If eventually the land is bought, They may build farm houses on it. In two cropping seasons, the estimated net income (after repayment of the loan) of every Co-operative member is between #1million and #1.8million a year. This is after the #800,000 federal loan and other expenses have been deducted from gross earnings over 2 cropping seasons (about 1 calender year).
In one week, Mr Akintoye (telephone no 08033018138/ email firstname.lastname@example.org), has recruited about 50 members for the Co-operative, GOLDEN CROWN CO-OPERATIVE of which he is President, as said. The Co-operative wishes to grow its membership to about 500 or 1,000 members before its registration.
What I picked from it all is that the federal Government is now approaching Agriculture with more seriousness and wisdom. Hitherto, young people had no money to acquire land and to cultivate it. Yet land was lying fallow, wasting, in the hinterland, the inhabitants of which had no jobs and lived in penury. Now, the hinterland has been opened up for big farmland holdings and the money to cultivate it is available. The natives will be employed on the farms and will get paid from investment returns on the federal loan. The banks and the facilitating groups will benefit as well. So will be the Co-operative members who, nationwide, will number hundreds of thousands, if not millions. In the markets, more food will be available, and it will arrive on the dinning table at a cheaper cost. Above all, the Recession will receed and the years of plenty will be here again in Nigeria.
There are some drawbacks in this dream, however. Nigeria does not have a good information machine to sell government ideas. Information Minister Lai Mohammed is not to blame for this. Biafra’s information system outclassed Nigeria’s world-wide during the civil war (July 1966-January 1970). If you ask Mr Taiwo Obe, Chief Executive Officer of Taijowonukabe, he would tell you the newspapers are not being well read today and cannot pay salaries regularly because they are delinked from Society. How many of them have setup Agriculture Desks to monitor and to report the unfolding scenario of agriculture expansion in Nigeria? Many people who worked with me in the newsroom of The Comet newspaper, now defunct, should now see the wisdom in our setting-up of an Agriculture Desk at a time Agriculture had not become as high flying as it is now. As Editor-in-Chief/Editorial Director of that newspaper, I saw agriculture as a huge industry which could provide readership (circulation) and advertising income. In this market were policy makers, researchers, students and scholars, machinery companies, fertilizer and pesticide firms, commodity companies, Co-operatives and private farmers, food wholesalers, retailers, consumers, importers and exporters and the likes of them.
In arrears, I thank TEMITOPE MIKE-PEARSE and his group for helping us on that newspaper to achieve the little we did on The Comet’s Agriculture Desk, and suggest to all newspaper editors to setup Agriculture Desks. The petrol-dollar train has left town and, perhaps, has even crashed. The Agro-dollar train is thundering in. Every generation has its hallmark(s). Agriculture is the hallmark of the Under-50 Nigerian generation. See what Mr Rotimi Williams, at 35, unknown to many Nigerian editors, has achieved in Nasarawa State. Our only prayer is that, as FORBES magazine fears, the North does not quake one day and chase out the likes of Mr Rotimi Williams. It was from such fear, I suspect, that the Ooni of Ife, cradle of Yoruba civilisation, rushed to Lagos to ask Governor Akinwunmi Ambode not to keep all his eggs in Kebbi State rice farmlands, and support the South-Western States to optimize their rice growing potentials. Afterall, charity should begin from home, he must have reasoned.
How do all these affect Natural Medicine? In every way, I think. Food comes first. When we know how to grow food crops on mega scales, we would think of ending colonialism in the plant medicine sector. What we are pursuing now is the capacity to believe in, and rely on ourselves. Get on the Agro-dollar train today.