OLAM Farms: Bringing peace to Nasarawa communities through rice farming

OLAM International, hosting one of the world’s largest agricultural conglomerates, had established one of the largest rice farms in Africa through its Nigeria branch, OLAM Nigeria Limited. It has become a blessing to three communities, Rukubi, Ijiwu and Andorie in Nasarawa state, after they welcomed it as it took the bold step in rice cultivation and processing to meet the huge rice demands and consumption in the country, JOHN OBA writes

This bold initiative by OLAM Nigeria Ltd, was appreciated and welcomed by the Nasarawa state government, which signed a Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) and through these three communities provided over 9, 000 hectares of land for the production and milling of rice for local consumption.
These communities were vulnerable to incessant attacks by unknown gunmen who invade them at will. One of these communities, Rukubi, had suffered violent attacks, as the Nasarawa State Police Command reported in 2013 that over 15 people were killed when gunmen attacked Agatu settlement in Rukubi Village in Ekye Development Area of Lafia, and hundreds of houses, cars and motorcycles were burnt by the attackers.
Those who survived the attack had to flee the community for safety and since then the area had remained volatile to conflicts. The community had been living in apprehension and tension.

Testifying to this fact, one of the community leaders, from Ijiwu, Ikushunta Adih, who was overwhelmed with the impact of OLAM Nigeria Ltd, said that the coming of the company to the community had changed the war-war situation into a place of peace and economic empowerment, as many youths and adults were employed and engaged by the company, therefore no place of violence again.

“Earlier before the coming of OLAM Nigeria Ltd, 60-70 percent of the villagers were not doing anything, but today, the story is different as many have been engaged and they could afford to build their own house.

“We don’t pray that they leave, because their leaving will spell doom for the villagers, and that is why we are saying if they need more land we will give to them.

“When they first came all excavation works were done by them, but now, they have taught some of our boys on how to use the machine to do excavation. They have also engaged our boys in their mechanical workshop, through it they have provided employment opportunity for our unemployed youths,” Adih stated.

One of the Block Managers, OLAM Nigeria Ltd, Adagoso Zakari, who is an indigene of Rukubi, said for many years there was always communal crisis in the area before the coming of OLAM Nigeria Ltd to invest hugely in the area.

“For a long time, the community have been experiencing high level of communal crisis, often caused by Fulani herdsmen, but as OLAM Farms came to establish this massive rice farm and mill the violence we use to experience had reduced drastically, and people in the village now earn their living from the farm,” Zakari said.

Another employee of OLAM Nigeria Ltd and a Block Manager, Abdusalam Anmene, said the impact of the company on the three host communities had been positive and enormous, especially in the area of fostering peace.

Anmene said relative peace had returned to the area and everybody was glad for this achievement by OLAM Nigeria Ltd. He commended the initiative of the company for carrying the three communities along in employment, training, provision of social amenities, and cooperation with them.
He said with the presence of the company security had been beefed up against any possible attack, and it had helped them to enjoy security of lives and property as it had stern the tide of incessant attacks.

As part of peace in the area, the people in these communities had expressed profound joy describing it as a new dawn in the history of rice farming in the area, because they were using crude methods to cultivate rice at a subsistence level.

Adagoso Zakari said, “Before the coming of the OLAM Nigeria Ltd, we have been cultivating rice and could only cultivate three hectares of farmland, but today with the help of OLAM, we can comfortably cultivate 20 hectares, because they have given us the knowledge and trained us on new farming techniques.

“Earlier before now we usually produce between two and three tonnes of paddy rice per hectare, but OLAM have been able to teach us the right way to cultivate rice and the amount of fertilizer to apply, therefore made us cultivate and harvest maximally between six and seven hectares of rice.”
Another block manager, Mrs. Dechi Joel, said the company had empowered women in the communities, who were employed in their hundreds out of the over 1, 000 people been employed from the three communities on daily basis, and had also astronomically increased women in rice farming, therefore had turned around their fortune as some now earn monthly pay to take care of themselves and their families.

Joel said it was hard for them to feed themselves due to crisis in the area and the people had no basic skills to fend for themselves. But the story of frustration and hunger had changed with the coming of the company, which had lifted them out of the dungeon of poverty.

“It is heartwarming to see such a bold step by the company despite the security challenges in Nasarawa and its sister state, Benue, to invest over $70 million on rice cultivation and milling, and also creating thousands of jobs for idle hands in Doma Local Government Area, of Nasarawa state” she said.
Farm Manager, Mr. Reji George, said, the company was concerned with the goal of attaining rice self-sufficiency by the federal government in 2015, and never minded the security issues in the area.

“The tractors were imported from Malawi, and at first those operating the equipment were from Malawi but now it is mostly being handled by the indigenes of our host communities. We are doing a lot of in-house training programmes, and we can fully say now that most of our manpower is sourced within the local community,” George stated.

George who was not perturbed by the current spate of violence in some parts of North-central said the government was doing its best in handling the situation, and OLAM  had also embarked on returning peace to the area.

On the rice farming and milling project, he said what the company was doing had been targeted in helping Nigeria out of the massive importation bills it pays annually on rice.

“It was a green field project embarked upon by OLAM Farms as a commercial rice project, and the broad plan was to cultivate 6, 000 hectares of land, cultivating low land rice through irrigation twice in a year.

“The cultivation is done mechanically, out of the 6, 000 hectares of land 4, 000 hectares has being leveled, out of which 3, 000 hectares of land was used to cultivate rice last year December, which would be harvested between March and April this year.

“We have been cultivating these areas, this would be the third farm cycle and by July we would have cultivated 4,600 hectares. We intend to have full land development by 2015, in which we would have 6, 000 hectares of rice farmland fully cultivated through water irrigation,” George said.

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