The Group Chief Sustainability and Governance Officer, Dangote Group, Mrs. Ndidi Nnoli-Edozien, in this interview, speaks about efforts by the company to boost rice production in the country. Oluchi Chibuzor and Hamid Ayodeji bring the excerpts:
What do you think can be done to scale up rice production and supply of agricultural products in Nigeria?
We need to deploy correctly imports that are required to enhance yields because yields in Nigeria are currently lower than most of the averages across the world; not only because it generates more income for the farmers, but also because it encourages more youths to go into farming and agricultural production as well enhancing food self-sufficiency. It will also reduce the amount of money we spend on importing food from other countries which takes you back to the issue of having more wealth and being able to create more prosperity locally.
Also, if we are more conscious of adequate agricultural practices, then we enhance the quality of food that we produce, and once we enhance the quality of the food that we produce, we enhance the health of the citizens; and once we enhance the health of our citizens that drops the cost of healthcare. Thus, food is at the centre of everything and it must begin with ensuring that we are enhancing agricultural production with the use of good agricultural practices.
One of the issues that is believed to be slowing down the development and productivity of the agricultural sector is the minimum usage of technology in methods of production as majority of the farmers still make use manual equipment during production and harvesting. What do you think can be done to assist these farmers towards more efficient modern methods so as to boost their production capacity?
I can use the case of Dangote rice as an example. Dangote rice has improved varieties of rice seeds. Unlike the average farmer’s hectarage of 0.5 to one hectare. So, we have a lot of smallholder farmers and their average yield is one and a half to two metric tons per hectare which was our baseline when we first started. What we were able to do was secure seeds. In controlled conditions, those seeds yielded up to eleven metric tons per hectare and we were able to distribute those seeds to farmers which have led to a lot of our farmers producing approximately six to seven metric tons per hectare which means their yields have tripled as well as tripling their income level for the same amount of labor. In addition, because we were able to provide access to input and market, we created a more secure supply of input, more secure access to market as well as a more guaranteed cashflow for a smallholder farmer so that they can depend on the fact that their crop would actually yield the kinds of returns that they hope it to. Also, there are other introductions that are very valuable to farmers such as insurance, just in case things go wrong, also learning when to apply the efficient type of fertilizer, or perhaps, if you are producing on the right soil with no fertilizer and if your soil has the required nutrients to grow your crop, and also when to weed. We have also initiated a number of programmes with youths that we have tried to pilot with the view to understanding better, what it takes for young people to engage in the sector. One of the things we have explored with partners, but not yet implemented is the idea of having clusters of smallholder farmers and making it cost effective to mechanise. Once you have a cluster of smallholder farmers and they are able to jointly hire equipment to harvest, not only do you reduce post-harvest losses because when you thresh rice by hand you have a lot of yield, thus the rice milling yields reduces significantly much better than when you use thresher and it is more cost effective for the farmers as well.
What is Dangote doing to meet the demand for rice in Nigeria and within what timeline?
First of all, our market is always large and you would always want to have different actors meeting market demand as there is a significant demand for rice in Nigeria. I think that the argument has always been can we create an enabling environment that encourages investors to invest in local production, local processing, local marketing of rice and what happens from a business perspective? If you choose to meet 15 percent of market share first with the plan to expand your market share from 15 to 25 per cent, 25 to 40 per cent, and then 40 to 55 per cent, that should surely be enough; while allowing other players to operate in the market. I think it is a projection which happens over time. So, you cannot put your finger to say exactly how long it will take to meet market demand.
However, we have invested in rice milling factories that would be able to produce approximately one million metric ton of parboiled rice upon completion and I would say that production level should have been reached within the next 18 months and that is just the
Considering the current situation whereby price keeps getting higher and the access to locally-made rice is not up to market demand, what do you think should be done?
Ten years ago Ofada rice was not popular but today in every ceremony you attend or organise it is the absolute delicacy. So, we need to invest in ourselves and we have to start somewhere and we cannot solve and do everything overnight. So, it is a journey towards development. Making investments in rice mills that are local is an investment as it takes time to get the plants built, it takes time to build the civil works, it takes time to procure the land, and it takes time to actually begin to grow enough paddy rice for you to be able to mill that paddy rice locally to create that parboiled rice that is put out into the market. So, there is a timeline for making investments and producing as well as ensuring that you are meeting market demand. Definitely, the demand is here and prices are not going to drop until we have enough local production and that is exactly the commitment Dangote has made, not just to produce parboiled rice locally, but to also produce tomatoes, tomato pastes, and also backward integration of sugar so that we integrate and produce more sugar cane locally which would be used to generate the sugar we put on the shelves of super markets.
For us as an enterprise, it is about ensuring that we are using our land resources more cost effectively, more sustainably, more responsibly, creating more jobs ensuring that we have more local content and ensuring that more of the food that ends up on our table is actually produced in Nigeria.