• Water/irrigation project to boost economic income of 20,000 farmers, 100,000 dependants
By Nwabueze Okonkwo
ONITSHA – Anambra state is now counting the gains associated with the resuscitation and expansion of a moribund rice mill, under the Public Private Partnership, PPP venture.
The mill was established in the state by the Federal Government as a federal project at Umumbo community in Ayamelum Local Government Area of the state, as far back as 1997.
Formerly known as Omor Rice Mill, the project which was established in collaboration with the World Bank and the Old Anambra State Government before it was abandoned, was, however, handed over to Anambra State Government in 2010 by the Federal Government and it later went into PPP agreement with an agro-based investor, Josan, to ensure its resuscitation, expansion and full capacity utilisation.
All efforts by successive federal and state governments, since that 1997 to rehabilitate the vandalised and abandoned giant mill proved abortive until the advent of Governor Willie Obiano administration which contracted Josan on PPP for the technical resuscitation and all round investments to this effect.
Obiano’s first contact with Joseph Agro Industries, Josan, was in 2015 when he contracted Josan to rehabilitate the former dilapidated World Bank Rice Farm at Ufuma, Orumba North Local Government Area of the state, as a pilot test scheme.
Amazingly, Josan proved its mettle by installing two new rice mills at Ufuma, built all-year round irrigation facilities under the Lower Anambra Irrigation Prtoject, LAIP and engaged in a large co-sponsored out-growers scheme with International Funds for Agricultural Development, IFAD-value chain, which earned Josan the national award as the IFAD off-taker.
Based on the quality job done at the Ufuma rice mill project, with a functional irrigation programme, Obiano handed over the moribund Omor Rice Mill to Josan in 2018 for resuscitation.
Consequently, Josan transformed the 30,000 metric tonnes annual capacity former Omor Rice Mill into a giant rice mill with its current expanded annual production capacity of 80,000 metric tonnes of paddy rice input and 50,000 metric tonnes of milled rice, which now raised its status as the biggest rice mill in Africa.
To make the mill function all year round, Obiano decided to site a World Bank water and irrigation project very close to the mill, to enable it produce and mill rice at full capacity.
At the commissioning ceremony of the rice mill which coincided with the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the water and irrigation project, known as Anambra Water and Irrigation Project, AWIP, aimed at pumping water from a river, creating water treatment plants along the water lines of key communities for potable community water and irrigating potentially 10,000 hectares of land, Obiano noted that the essence of siting the AWIP project near the rice mill was to ensure that there is at least production of 120,000 metric tonnes of paddies a year.
Obiano who was visibly satisfied with the level of technical work done on the mill, praised Josan for completing the project within a record time and explained that the project would boost national self-sufficiency in rice production.
The governor contended that Umumbo remained a great contributor to the rice production transformation agenda of the state government, adding that the projects were indication of his administration’s commitment towards improving the state’s agricultural production capacity, even as he urged farmers to take advantage of the great opportunity provided by the mill to open more doors of employment and development.
Earlier, the state Commissioner for Agriculture, Processing and Mechanisation, Afam Mbanefo had expressed gratitude to Obiano for making the mill operational once more.
On the irrigation project, Mbanefo stressed that the project would drive massive agricultural production as it would serve areas stretching not less than 200 kilometres.
In his welcome address, Chairman of Josan Integrated Rice Mills and Farms and Joseph Agro Industries, Chief Oliver Okeke who spoke about the genesis and the vision of the project, disclosed that the firm, in a record time, was able to completely resuscitate the giant rice mill at its own expense, fixing the intake unit, the dryers, the power elements, the boilers, the parboiling unit and the rice mill.
Okeke noted that prior to this, the rice mill was totally vandalised and abandoned for years, with all the electrical wires and parts ripped out and the mill completely written off by successive governments since 1997, adding that other investors who were brought in over the years, abandoned the project, as it was not technically and financially possible for them to resuscitate the giant rice mill, after the vandalisation, until Josan took up the challenge by the Governor and made the requisite resuscitation and expansion investment.
According to Okeke: “This is a testimony of the federal and state government’s successful agriculture policies to bring in genuine investors into the agriculture sector. Anambra State Rice produced by Josan (different from Anambra Rice), was also launched at the event, as a testimony to rice that is grown in Anambra, milled in Anambra and packaged in Anambra. This will become a proudly Anambra State Rice, “Made in Nigeria” product, to reduce the importation of rice and save foreign exchange for Nigeria.”
Okeke whose address was read on his behalf by Uche Bennett, the assistant coordinator of Josan Farms, stated that the vision started when he spoke with his partner, Benedict Peters, the Chairman of Joseph Agro Foundation (a foundation set up to empower the rural farmers of Africa), who elaborated that it was time to empower the local farmers of Africa, become self-sufficient in food production and bring in development to the rural areas of Nigeria.
He therefore commended Governor Obiano, the Hon. Commissioner of Agriculture, Mr Afam Mbanefo and the executives of Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency, ANSIPPA, the traditional rulers and the host communities, for their unrelenting support.
He also commended Umumbo community for agreeing to give them 5,000 hectares of land to develop a highly irrigated and mechanised farm, with Josan as the anchor off-taker for the Lower Anambra Irrigation Project, LAIP, in conjunction with NISRAL, IFAD, FADAMA and other development partners, as the LAIP farm was attached to the Josan giant mill, which potentially has 10,000 rice farmers.
He maintained that the mill would help to create employment all year round, for over 20,000 farmers and thousands of agro processors, as using irrigation, there will now be all year water for farming, annual supply and full capacity processing of rice paddies into milled rice, since rice is Nigeria’s main staple food and Anambra will become a major supplier of rice to Nigeria and beyond.
This Anambra Water and Irrigation project will also boost the economic income of over 20,000 rice farmers and 100,000 family dependents, ensure all year round farming, there would be enough rice paddies all year for hundreds of rice mills in Anambra State, plus, it will usher in increased economic multiplier development into the rural areas of Anambra State (feeder roads, power, community water, logistics, ware houses, housing, schools and service industries).
Igwe Cyril Enweze, the managing director of ANSIPPA, said the vision of the project was to promote food security and revenue generation.
Tony Nnaamah, the president-general, Umumbo community, alleged that herdsmen had in the past destroyed farms and sources of water.
In his vote of thanks, the traditional ruler of Omor, one of the communities benefitting from the project, Igwe Oranu Chidume, lauded government’s effort in resuscitating the project.