Rotimi Williams, an ambitious 35 year-old Nigerian entrepreneur and rice farmer, is on a quest to change the fact that Nigerians consume more than 5 million metric tons of rice every year, with a significant portion of its consumption needs sourced from imports.
Williams, a former Journalist, is the owner of Kereksuk Rice Farm, the 2nd largest commercial rice farm in Nigeria by land size. His farm, which is situated in Nasarawa state in northern Nigeria, currently sits on 45,000 hectares and employs more than 600 indigenes of Nasarawa.
He attended King’s College in Lagos. After attending secondary school at King’s College he proceeded to obtain his first degree at University of Aberdeen where he graduated with a degree in Economics. He also obtained a Master’s Degree in Economics from the same institution. His quest for more knowledge led him to enroll for yet another Master’s Degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London where he gained an MSc. in Finance and Development Studies. Upon graduation, he landed a role as an analyst at the European Economics and Financial Centre in London. Afterwards, Euromoney Magazine- employed him where he covered the African space.
The Journey so far :
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.
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.
Interview by Mfonobong Nsehe.