Olam: Working To Boost Production Of Nigerian Rice
Statistics has it that Nigeria consumes whooping five to six million metric tons of rice annually. It is however unfortunate that a country like Nigeria with abundant land and water still imports over three million metric tonnes of rice, while government spend a billion dollars annually on rice importation.
The federal government came up with different policies to encourage local rice production, however despite concerted efforts to stem the tide of rice importation; foreign rice keeps dominating Nigerian markets. Often time, when local rice is mentioned, the picture that comes to mind is rice filled with stones and particles.
Today, the story is different as rice produced in the country can compete favourably with foreign rice. In fact, experts have proved that locally produced rice is healthier and tastier than the imported ones that may have been stored in silos for up to 15 years before getting to the market.
Olam Rice farm, one of Nigeria’s rice producers with brand names, Mama’s Pride and Chef Choice is working to ensure that the staple food meets up to the standard of rice imported from India, Thailand among others. The farm, which started operation in 2012, is mechanised with high-powered fully automated farm machines. The combine harvester’s machines can harvest up to 20 hectares per day. The farm also has an aircraft, which is efficient for spraying fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides. The network of artificial dams created around the farm enable the company to cultivate during seasons.
In its bid to ensure the rice is of international standard, the farm, according to Mr. Jayant Jagtap, Head, Olam Rice Mill has commenced planting on 4000 ha. With average yield of 5.5 to seven tonnes per hectare, the farm currently produces about 72,000mt of paddy rice annually.
Jagtap, said, “the quality of rice planted such as Faro 44 and Faro 52, are excellent varieties, which have better quality and yield than most imported rice grain. Built into the farm system is a 105,000 capacity state-of-the-art milling plant that meets international standard to process high quality rice.”
Explaining the production process, Jagtap said to guarantee the production of high quality rice, after the paddy is brought from the farm, is sieved, dried and stored in the silos. During the production stage, the paddy is parboiled, washed and dried again, it then pass through seven cleaning processes by different machines, after which it is taken to another special machine for stone removal, then it goes through polishing stages, after which the paddy is taken through eight different machines for grading. The rice then goes through the optical colour sorter for sorting out the black particles in the rice, after which the rice is packed and baggage.”
Mr. Mahesh Nimje, Olam’s head of sales and distribution, noted that with the mill in place, the company produces 310,000 metric tonnes of high quality parboiled rice annually and aims to double the production by 2016, when the company plans to increase its cultivation to 6000 hectares. On the sales performance of their products, Nimje disclosed that the company is not doing badly in terms of sales, as in the last three month it has sold about 3000 trailers. However, the company hopes to increase their sales and expand to other unreached markets in the country.
He said the country may need to continue importing rice for some years to come, so as to make up for the demand and supply gap, however he pointed out that other local rice millers need to get serious in ensuring self sufficiency of the staple food, he noted “as far as am concern, Olam is the only serious company producing rice in Nigeria, as we are creating jobs, improving the lives of people in the community and ensuring we get high quality parboiled rice to the table of Nigerians, I think others need to get serious in the business of rice production.”
While lamenting on the lack of power supply, he noted that they have to generate their electricity to power the farm and call on the government for assistance. He also noted that since 2005 and in addition to its import business, the company have been investing in domestic rice production by supporting smallholder farmers with training and finance, as well as investing in local milling and selling into the Nigerian market.
In 2013, we invested over N19 billion in 10,000 hectare farm with integrated mill, which directly employs 950 people from the surrounding communities and the number of people employed on the farm during harvest time increased to 3000 people.
“We have invested a lot of money in Nigerian rice, setting up mill plant, the farms and the people employed and so, it becomes difficult to compete with the cross border rice coming into Nigeria; that is the price challenge we have. If the government is able to block the borders and give a level playing field, Nigerian rice will be cheaper than other imported rice coming into the market. If the cross border rice incursion is stopped, it will be better days for Nigerian farmers.”