Imota rice mill to churn out 2.4 million bags of 50kg rice annually —Lagos Agric Commissioner

Lagos State Commissioner for Agriculture, Ms Abisola Olusanya, in this interview by BOLA BADMUS and DAYO AYEYEMI speaks on the state of Imota Rice Mill, the largest in the country, projected to generate about 250,000 jobs across value chain when fully operational, among other issues.

 

CAN you share with us the stage at which Imota Rice Mill  project is now?

Imota Rice Mill, 32-metric tons per hour milling capacity, is the largest in Nigeria. The administration of Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu took it over, roughly when it was at about 15per cent completion level. As of today, civil work construction is at 89 per cent completion level, while installation of equipment is currently at about 70 per cent. The mill is modular, meaning you have two lines of 16metric tons each, making 32metric tons, you have Line A and Line B.

Line A should be completed by roughly March 14 or thereabout. Line A should be fully completed in terms of installation, whilst Line B should be completed by the end of March, into first week of April. Electrical installations is also ongoing concurrently with the mechanical and equipment installations. We are hoping to see this Mill commissioned, God willing, at the second anniversary of Sanwo-Olu’s administration, come May 29, 2021, that’s what we are hoping for.

That’s putting into consideration that things go according to plans, in terms of logistics, weather and factors that are outside our control. If everything goes as it should, then we should be having the Mill commissioned as at that time.

 

How do you hope to source your supply of paddy rice for the Mill?

For the rice paddy, it’s good to know that we still have discussions with CBN recently under the Anchor Borrower’s Programme. You know the CBN also is dealing with prime anchors across Nigeria, those who are growing rice paddy, who have taken CBN loans. The CBN is able to offtake off their hands and push it to millers like the Imota Rice Mill for instance. So already as it is, in discussions with even CBN recently, we already have some paddy that we would be off taking through the CBN from anchors as far as we are having land/bank collaboration with other states.

For instance, we are looking at Niger State, we are looking at Kwara, we are looking at a couple of other states that have the land mass that can grow rice in large quantities and are partnering with them around how we can have the land and use for it for rice paddy and then we can off take from them.

Also we are looking to the South-West as well, states like Oyo that have the land mass for growing rice in large quantities, and even Ogun State for us to be able to grow rice in large quantities. But we are also looking internally, that is our rice farmers here in Lagos. We may not have many rice farmers here, but we are still doing what we can with them. We started rice plan, that is empowerment and sensitisation and training programme last year for our rice farmers where we empowered over 800 of them. We went to the various farms, most of them around Badagry-Ito Ekin areas to see what they are doing and to encourage them. We will continue this year as a sustenance, even if they are able to feed the Mill, no matter how small the quantity is, we know that at least Lagos farmers are part of the Imota Rice Mill successes.

 

This is obviously a wake up not a wake up call to recent food blockade by the Northerners to the South-West.

It is a boost obviously that we need to understand also that sometimes in the midst of issues such as this, opportunities arise and I think for us we were not looking for negative issues to happen before we know the steps to take. I am sure you must have heard from a couple of Mr. Governor’s speeches since last year November, even as far back as when he was doing the budget reading for 2021, he kept mentioning that the Agricultural Roadmap, five-year Roadmap of the Ministry of Agriculture for Lagos State is actually ready, we are hoping to do that launch at the end of this month of March.

So when we are talking about Roadmap, we have world class consultants who are working with us. We have started the Roadmap for Agric. You might want to say Lagos is not so much of an agrarian state, but we have countries like the Netherlands that have similar terrain and they are able to produce agricultural commodities in large quantities and even export. We want to emulate such model even if we, Lagos by nature, are not agrarian, but we need to start producing what we will eat. So whether it is rice, we are taking advantage of the fact that yes, we need to do something around rice production, but more importantly, we are looking at areas we have the market mostly.

We have been talking about the Red Meat Value Chain, for instance. Lagos is the largest consumer of red meat in Nigeria and in West Africa. What are we doing around our red meat value chain? We are transforming the whole system right from animal identification and feasibility down to consumer’s plate. Across that entire value chain from seedlock system to the logistics, to the abattoirs, to the logistics again of the carcasses, down to the meat shops, down to the market, down to the consumers. We are transform everything around that under the administration of Governor Sanwo-Olu. So it is not that we waited for things like this to happen, maybe some people say they are going to go on a strike and it’s affecting food in the South. We’ve taken a proactive measures to draw up a Roadmap, a five- year roadmap, and we should be launching that soon. But as it is the ministry is already working with that Roadmap around implementing that idea.

 

Apart from the red meat value chain, which other food items are you also considering working on to bring about sufficiency?

Aqua culture, fishery. In Lagos State, we are surrounded by water, it is around us. What value chain should we focus on more, if not on fishery value chain? If you look at Lagos crest, we have a fisherman throwing a net in the water, you have two coconut trees, it tells you Lagos is even more agrarian, more than we understand Lagos to be.

What we are doing right now is to say okay, we have for the fishery, we have the Artisanal fishermen and then we have the aquaculture farmers. Artisanal fishermen will be ones who fish in the waters, who take out their boats and then aqua culture farmers will be those who have ponds in their farms or in their backyards, or what have you. So what we have seen is that Artisanal fisher men actually contribute more to fish production in Lagos, what are we doing around that? We are trying to gather them around cluster groups such that they can also begin to enjoy some of CBN intervention funds, or Federal Government intervention funds such that they are able to get into waters, buy better boats, encourage the youth to also come, by then using technically enabled equipment to produce more, to be able to catch more, to be able to make more money.

For the aqua culture fishermen, honestly we are coming up with Lagos Aqua Culture Centre for Excellence, which is supposed to be like a production but more importantly a processing facilities, stretching over 35hectres of land, to be located at Epe. The idea is that whatever is being produced across farms in the state, we should be able to have a cluster, a facility that should be able to offtake from these clusters for processing, that is processing for both the local and for the export markets.

If you look at our waters, you have foreign trawlers coming into Lagos waters to swim, to catch fish and what have you and take back to their countries, what are we doing as a state to harness the possibilities around us? So we are also trying to get Federal Government licences for trawling in our own waters such as, at least, we can also be encouraged to produce or to catch more fishes and to be able to feed more Lagosians.

You say in terms of supply, we are able to supply 174,000 tons of fish on an annual basis. But we say that our demand is well over 400,000 metric tons, so we are talking of a deficit of 226,00 metric tons, if we are able to bring more trawling, then we should be able to meet up or close the gap. These are some of the things that we are doing and we have set the ball rolling and we are ready, we are not waiting for the launch of the Roadmap, before we start the implementation of this idea.

 

How many metric tons of rice are you expecting the Mill to produce annually by the time it becomes fully operational?

If the Mill is to work at full capacity, a full capacity meaning you are working round the clock 24/7 because it is a continuous run, it will be churning out well over 2.4million bags of 50kg rice on an annual basis, that’s 120,000 metric tons of rice. What that means is that in terms of paddy, it would require almost 300 tons of paddy or let’s even say roughly 260,000 tons of paddy for you to be able to get 120,000 tons of finished rice. That’s if it is to work full capacity, full optimisation, full utilisation.

 

But some people would have even thought that this Mill ought to have been ready before now, what has stopped that from happening?

You say what has stopped that from happening? If anyone says Imota Rice Mill should have been ready, we all know the impact of COVID-19 last year on the economy, we all know the impact on travel restrictions.

The equipment we have installed, there is this world class equipment from Buhler of Switzerland, Buhler is the no 1 manufacturer of milling equipment in the world. And what that means also as part of the equipment or as part of the sales agreement, Buhler supervisors are supposed to be on ground to make sure that in terms of equipment installation, it gets it right; it’s part of the warranty agreement. And these people couldn’t fly into the country last year. I mean we have a team on ground waiting to do the installations, but travel restrictions from all over the world did not allow the team to come in and there is no way you can install without them being on ground to ensure the installations work. Even when we tried to do virtual, it was only to a reasonable degree, you can’t do virtual for all the installations. We want them to come down for them to be able to monitor, to see that the installations were properly carried out.

 

How much is the total cost of the Mill and how many people are projected to be employed overall?

To be honest with you, the cost implications, was done before the administration of Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Looking at the tentative and potential values, in terms of what it would take to put the Mill together, it was estimated to be roughly at about N25billion, but that N25 billion is not being fully utilised. You need to understand that we are also trying to be frugal around how monies are spent and around cost implications.

But another thing that should be noted is that as at the time this Mill was conceived in 2017, exchange rate back then was completely different from what it is now. Back then, it was N360-N380 level, now we know that the exchange rate is well over N480, close to N500 per dollar. So that has to be taken into cognisance because we have expatriates coming in to oversee the installations at the Mill, that comes at a cost. There is cost of materials also, be it cement and what have you, prices have changed as well.

So the longer it takes, the more expensive you can get, which is why we are trying to move quickly to make sure that this Mill is completed on time.

In terms of job potential, job creation, across the entire value chain, we have estimated that the Mill should be able to catalyse jobs well over 250,000. So across the entire value chain, across Nigeria, we are talking of input suppliers, those who would supply fertilisers, those who would supply fuel, those who would do research, to those who would actually be on the farm to produce, to those who would maybe, supply equipment for irrigation, equipment for plows and what have you, to those who would actually aggregate the paddy from the farm, to the logistics providers, to the ones who would actually mill the rice, to those who would do the menial jobs to those who would do the logistics again from the Mill itself to the major distributors’ warehouses, to the final distributors themselves, and their own people, and also the market men and women, who would buy this rice from them and sell to the consumers who would eat it. So across the entire value chain, across Nigeria, we are talking of about 250,000 jobs. That is what we estimated this Mill should be able to catalyse.

 

It is often said that government is not in the best position to manage business, so are you partnering with corporate bodies to run this Mill?

Yes, you will recall that last year, I think October, we had put out Expression of Interest seeking for strategic partners who would be willing to partner with us in running the Mill. We know that government should not be in business of running a business, which is why we took the initiative to say yes, we need the private sector participants, who have the capacity, who have the experience in this milling business to come and work with us.

And aside, we are working with world class consultants to help us put together a business model that ensures that this Mill is sustainable and viable. So this is not about government wanting to set up something. We have people who have shown interest. We are doing selection process. When we get the final partner, we will announce it to the whole world. It’s a lengthy process because we don’t also want to put the Mill worth billion of naira into the hands of wrong people. So there is a selection process, there are criteria being put in place. So what is important is that the Mill has to get into the right hands, it is not how far it does, it is how well. That is what we are after, sustainability and viability.

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