As part of surveys to ascertain Nigeriaâ€™s various efforts towards ensuring food security, Abimbola Akosile joined a team of selected journalists who went on a field trip to Olam Nigeriaâ€™s Rukubi Rice Processing Mill, in Rukubi area of Nasarawa State, where he got an inkling into what it takes to sufficiently feed the countryâ€™s over 170 million citizens
A popular greeting in China is â€œHave you eaten rice today?â€ According to excerpts from Noble House, a novel written by James Clavell in 1981 and set in Hong Kong of 1963, eating rice was taken as the norm in then mainland China and nearby Hong Kong and Shangai.
In Nigeria, although the greetings differ according to dialects across regions and geographical zones, the local appetite for rice – home-grown, imported and smuggled – is no less widespread.
In a country which has been described as import-dependent, the need to feed so many millions and achieve sufficiency in local production of food has been a topical issue and there are several vital interventions by both government and the private sector to make this a reality; in line with the first goals of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which involve eradicating poverty and hunger in the world.
According to various reports, Nigeria, has imported nearly 17 million tonnes of rice over the past five years. The nation imported 2.3 million tonnes in 2016, while demand in the same year was 5.2 million tonnes.
In response to government calls for local players to help feed the 170 million Nigerians, Olam Nigeria, a multi-national agribusiness and part of the Olam International Group, set up a rice farm in 2012.
Olamâ€™s farm in Rukubi village in Nasarawa State, under the expert tutelage of Pieter Nel, a South African agricultural consultant, is one of the largest rice farms in Nigeria and in Africa, and although it grows 50,000 tonnes each year, this is just a small fraction of the countryâ€™s demand.
In a bid to enhance domestic food security through scaling up rice cultivation, Olam is developing a 10,000 hectare fully irrigated paddy farm on greenfield site in Ondorie, Nasarawa State.
The farm is expected to yield 10 MT per hectare (over two annual crop cycles), based on four varieties of high-yield rice tested with the West African Rice Development Association. 4,450 hectares are already under cultivation, with a further 3,000 hectares on target for 2017/18, while up to 1,000 workers are employed on the farm depending on seasonality
At the heart of the rice farm in Rukubi is a mechanised rice milling facility. The state of the art mill incorporates Satake milling technology and Italian par boiling technology. This is expected to provide 67,500 metric tonnes (MT) of milled rice per annum to the domestic market.
Olam, according to information supplied by Olam Vice-President, Corporate and Government Relations, Mr. Ade Adefeko, is the only ISO 22000 FSMS and FSSC certified rice processing company in Nigeria, and it received Global best quality rice product of the year award FY-2015 for its popular brand Mamaâ€™s Pride. Over 950 workers are employed at the mill during peak season
In linking large scale agriculture with smallholders to boost rice production at Olam, the â€˜nucleusâ€™ model combines the quality control of a large scale commercial farm with the cost and scalability benefits of smallholder â€˜outgrowerâ€™ networks.
The rice-growing communities in Nasarawa, Benue and Kaduna States are supported by Olam with group formation, training and all agri-inputs on credit in order to improve their own paddy yields and revenues with assured buy back system.
According to the top officials of the organisation, the Federal Government of Nigeria, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) MARKETS are the major stakeholders in these Olam Initiatives.
Around 4003 farmers including women are currently engaged in the programme with an area of 5563 hectares, with a target of 16,000 by 2018, ultimately supplying 30-40 per cent of the millâ€™s capacity. Olam also buys paddy from all producing states, controls quality and hires transport to factory.
While helping farming communities to thrive, Olam Nigeria is showcasing its commitment to the next generation through providing school buildings, materials and scholarships for students.
It is also connecting communities through development of 54km of roads between surrounding villages, and ensuring access to clean water and electricity through provision of bore wells and solar lamps.
In supporting Nigeriaâ€™s agricultural and change agenda, Olam Nigeria is ensuring quality rice that can compete with imported products in the domestic market – creating high-end rice from Nigeria, for Nigeria.
The scalability of the nucleus model is significant, and it is hoped that other players will replicate the success of Olamâ€™s rice farm to further enhance Nigerian food security.
Imagine driving steadily for more than 30 minutes non-stop to cover a section of Olam Nigeria’s 12,930 hectares, just to see various rice cultivation stages from planting to nurturing through irrigation to harvesting.
Although this is expected to yield around ten metric tonnes per hectare per annum, this harvest, which covers both rainy and dry seasons, cannot assuage the hunger and Nigerians’ demand for rice.
However, the Rukubi rice mill, which cultivates and processes the popular Mama’s Pride rice brand, remains a best practice towards ensuring food security and local sufficiency in rice production.
That is a step in the right direction, a prime candidate for government intervention in terms of favourable policies, tighter border controls against rice smuggling and incentives for higher cultivation, and a good guide for other private sector organisations to emulate. That is what change is all about.