Nigeria Acting President Osinbajo today commissioned the N10B ($33M) WACOT Rice Mill located on the Argungu-Sokoto road, about 55km from Birnin Kebbi and 90 kilometres from Sokoto. The mill was built on 10 hectares of land. The rice mill has a production capacity of 100,000 tonnes annually; silos for storing 18,000 tonnes of paddy and a warehouse for storing additional 12,000 tonnes of paddy. It is expected to generate direct and indirect employment for 3,500 people and its procurement will reach out to 50,000 farmers.
Speaking on the WACOT investment, Governor Bagudu said
“When President Muhammadu Buhari visit Kebbi State on November 15, 2015, to launch Anchored borrower scheme, many people were sceptical whether farmers in the state could deliver. Now everybody can see. Now, we are having investors like you in Kebbi. Whatever WACOT is doing here, it is not only helping people of Kebbi, but you are supporting national image. Even when the recession is going on, you start the construction of your plant which is now helping us to show that Nigeria has potentials.”
Governor Bagudu who pledged his administration’s commitment to support the company, also charged them to explore other products that could be of benefits to Nigerians. He added that the company should invest in Soybeans to compete with Brazil which sold over 400 billions dollars of the product per year to various markets in across the world.
Expressing joy for getting a rice mill in Argungu, his hometown, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court and patron of Kebbi State Rice Farmers Association, Uthman Mohammed, said, “Before the coming of WACOT, the rice companies simply came here to purchase our rice and take it to mill elsewhere. We discussed with the emir that we would appreciate a company to be set up in Argungu for milling our rice, and we are ready to feed such mill.
“Now that WACOT is here, we have gone round to tell our farmers that we now have a rice mill. We urged them to grow more rice so that the mill will produce round the clock. When our people heard about it they were very excited. Many are happy that they no longer have to go seeking for jobs elsewhere because of the job opportunities created in Argungu. It is an interesting thing for me to be a rice farmer.
I have over 50 hectares of rice field. I harvested over 1,000 bags of rice last year. People come on excursion to my farm to see what I have done there. Last year, a bag of paddy was sold for N10,000 and because of that, most of the young men and farmers have gone into rice farming. If you go to the FADAMA area in Argungu, you will be amazed.”
The Emir of Argungu, Alhaji Ismaila Muhammad Mera, also a rice farmer, expressed delight over the development of rice production in Kebbi State.
“For a very long time, Argungu has always been known for its rice farming. When you talk about agriculture here, it is rice first and other crops follow. The late emir of Argungu started the dry season farming in the state. It would be good for our farmers to have available markets for their produce and with WACOT, this feat can now be guaranteed. A 100kg bag of rice previously cost N3,000 to N4,000. People simply farmed to feed their families and sell what little they have left. However, for two years now, rice farming has become a profitable endeavor.”
The general manager, WACOT Rice Limited, Mr Amit Gupta, while assuring on his company’s commitment to rice production in the country, said the Argungu rice mill project was initiated in 2016 to actualize some of the federal government’s economic objectives. Expressing his optimism about the major role his company aims to play in the effort to boost rice production in the country, he said,
“This country consumes an average of five million tons of rice per year. What we as a company are excited about is the fact that we already have farmers. We started the outgrowers in 2015. We have been working all along with over 5,000 farmers in Kebbi State.
We trained about 5,000 farmers on good agricultural practices. We engaged them on multiple levels such as the field and demonstration farms. We also set up farmers’ business school to teach them financial management, cost of production, and best ways of investing money.
We have also worked with a lot of female-led organisations to create self-sustainable groups and make them economically viable.”
On quality, Mr. Gupta said WACOT has the capacity to produce world class rice that could be compared with those produced in Thailand and India because it has the required machines, boilers and other equipment needed to produce high quality rice.
“We need to change the impression that Nigerian rice is inferior to Thai rice. Our rice has passed through food safety standards and control and we are set to meet our targets. We need 100,000 tons of paddy to produce 16,000 tons of finished rice per year. With the capacity of our equipment and the interactions built over the years with farmers, this would not be difficult for us to meet. The rice mill cost us N10 billion to set up. We are confident of our entry into the market,”
When fully operational, he said, WACOT would employ over 600 full time workers in the mill. In addition, there would be over 400 labourers. He said the company aims to also create about 3,500 indirect workers.
Mr Gupta said the mill has a parking lot, which is expected to attract mechanics, auto electricians, drivers, off loaders, vulcanisers, food sellers and others. Anyone who wants to make or sell polythene bags has a market. Wacot Mill is the largest Rice Mill in Nigeria at the present time according to Mr Gupta.
Mr Gupta said WACOT which has branches in 13 African countries, Middle Belt and Asian countries, when fully expanded, would generate its independent energy and supply 250 villages in 14 local government areas of the state.