Rotimi Williams, an ambitious 35-year-old Nigerian entrepreneur and rice farmer, is striving to change the fact that Nigerians consume more than 5 million metric tons of rice a year, with a substantial portion of their consumption needs being imported.
Williams, The former journalist is the owner of Kereksuk Rice Farm, Nigeria’s second largest commercial rice farm by land size. His plantation, which is located in northern Nigeria’s Nasarawa village, currently occupies 45,000 hectares and employs over 600 Nasarawa indigenous people.
He went on to earn his first degree at the University of Aberdeen after completing high school at King’s College where he graduated with a degree in economics. He also earned a Master of Economics degree from the same institution.
His search for further education led him to apply for another Master’s degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, where he was received an MSc. in Finance and Development Studies. He landed a role as an analyst at London’s European Economics and Financial Centre, upon graduation. Afterwards he was employed by Euromoney Magazine- where he covered the African space.
The Journey so far :”Rotimi Williams”
While at Euromoney, I had the opportunity to travel around a few African countries. These trips exposed me to countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia and Ghana. A common thread amongst the aforementioned nations is agriculture. Agriculture is at the very core of these countries and this got me thinking.
After a few more trips, I decided to move back to Nigeria and sink my teeth into the agricultural space. Nigeria remains the largest economy in Africa from both a GDP perspective and also the strength of the size of our population.
Upon my arrival back in Nigeria, I got a job at a premier Bank where I was promised to sit on the agriculture desk – my hope was that I would gain enough knowledge of the Nigerian agricultural industry and develop myself from there.
Unfortunately, the agricultural desk at the Bank never quite achieved its set goals. I pushed hard for the Bank to adopt policies and gain inroads into the agricultural industry but my attempts were somewhat frustrated. I sincerely feel that the bank wasn’t quite ready to launch fully into the agricultural space.
As my frustration grew, I decided to quit banking and planned to go it alone into agriculture. Frankly, my decision led to a challenging sojourn as attempts to raise funding with my partner proved difficult. We started a Structured Trade and Commodity Finance company. After a while I started consulting for small agriculture companies seeking to raise capital both locally and internationally.
Two years had past and we still had no funds, so I made an offer to the farm owner, that with a 50-50 split, I would develop the farm with both personal funds and external funding. He agreed and that’s how I became part owner of 17,296 hectares of farmland. Knowing that agriculture would become the integral area of focus in Nigeria, I was bullish and ramped up the land to 55,000 hectares.
I later parted with my partner as a result of unaligned views and strategy. I maintained 45,000 hectares for myself and today we have started producing, with our quality paddy being sold to major milling companies in Nigeria. However, I must add the following, I often have people ask how I learned abut farming, as everyone thinks you need a special degree in agriculture to be a farmer, but I always tell them the truth, I learnt it all on Google .
I downloaded every article I could find on rice production, consumed it and then practiced it in the fields.
Frankly, my experience working alongside indigenes of Nasarawa state has been exceptional. I have learnt over the years that if you approach people with respect even more so while one seeks to set up a business venture.
Having a healthy sense of community makes all the difference in attaining one’s set objectives. I lean heavily on the wisdom and cultural approach of the indigenes to carry out farming on such a scale here in Nasarawa.
In the news today, there is a lot of talk about Farmers clashing with Fulani Herdsmen, but we think our approach has been successful. We created a scheme called the Farm Out Of Poverty initiative which I will talk about a bit more later. Under the FOOP, we are able to train approximately a hundred Fulani women in rice farming, at the same time, employing their men as our security and finally, feeding their castles from the rice straws after harvest.
Today, we live in peace and all work towards the success of the farm.
Kereksuk has taken a few initiatives to adopt environmentally friendly measures. For example, we apply organic fertilizers – fertilizers we gain quite seamlessly through our healthy relationship with the indigenes of this beautiful state.
Furthermore, we feed straw from our rice to livestock and while I am not at liberty to divulge the details, we are actually working on a project that seeks to generate power from rice.
I see myself as a social entrepreneur – I appreciate engaging the collective through community involvement. This has actually inspired Kereksuk to set up a few initiatives. Our pioneer initiative is the farm-out-of-poverty initiative. This strategic initiative targets secondary school children.
The Nigerian secondary school system is evenly split into two halves – the Junior Secondary School (JSS) years and the Senior Secondary School (SSS) years. Each half lasts for three (3) years. We focus primarily on the Senior Secondary School years by selecting ten (10) students per SSS year to visit our farm.
While on the farm, the 30 students are exposed to the production and economics of rice farming. At the end of the year we set aside N50,000 ($160) per student per year. This accrues to N150,000 (approximately $500) at the end of the 3-year programme per student. We ensure that this sum is matched by a like-minded cooperative organization and the cumulative amount of N300,000 ($1,000) goes towards paying fees at the tertiary education stage.
This programme seeks to alleviate the burden of debt often associated with students and empowers the student through experience in a real-life work environment.
Kereksuk is confident that this initiative inspires and acts as an incentive to those at the lower education cadre to remain in school and aim for excellence in life.