BILLIONAIRE preacher of the gospel, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo is now a big time farmer!
The founder of Kingsway International Christian Centre, actually has over 500 acres of farm land in Ofada, Obafemi Owode Local Government of Ogun State, South-West Nigeria.
ENCOMIUM Weekly gathered that Ashimolowo’s agro business operates under the management of Meridian Farms Limited.
We also learnt the man of God ventured into farm business against complaints of farmers who lamented the menace of pests which sometimes left nothing for them to harvest. This was one of the reasons they had to abandon the ‘unprofitable venture’.
Rice farming in Nigeria appeared to have become a dying sub-sector until the recent efforts by government in encouraging farmers to resuscitate it. Even despite government intervention, statistics shows that a lot still need to be done as Nigeria continues to consume more imported polished rice than the ones produced locally.
Nigeria imports about 2.1 metric tonnes of rice annually, coming only second to China as the world’s largest importer of rice.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Nigeria spends over N356 bn a year on rice importation. This underscores the frustration Nigerian rice farmers face as a result of unaffordability of needed technology, low and poor quality yields, among other challenges.
But according to sources at Ashimolowo’s Meridian Farms, all these do not seem to be a problem. His rice farm business, managed by Mr. Akeem Aremu, is said to be doing very well with many Nigerians in his employ.
Aremu even confessed that this year’s harvest was a giant leap from last year’s.
“Last year, we cultivated 28 acres. But this year, we increased it to 140. Our chairman (Ashimolowo) even wanted 200 acres but the time was not enough to make that possible,” he told a national daily that recently visited the expansive Ofada rice farm.
On how they battled pests, especially birds at the farm without hi-tech equipment, Aremu explained that rudimentary methods of chasing away or ensnaring pests were actually used.
“It was all about planning. But make no mistake, pests were our major challenge too. But we were strategic about it.
“We divided the plantation into four sections and put at least ten people in each section armed with catapults and whistles. We also used drums.
“We discovered that the birds swarmed on the plantation around 6am. So, we got to the farm before them and ready to scare them away with whistles and catapults when they came for breakfast. In the evening when we knew that they would come as well, we got there before them.
“Normally, the birds usually come during the most important stage of the cultivation, the milking stage. That is when the rice is still very soft and milk-like. Without adequate preparation for this stage, one may not get a single grain out of the plantation.
“A farmer came to visit us a few days ago and he could not help expressing shock that we could successfully produce rice here. The man said he planted more than five acres of rice and he did not harvest a single grain out of it because birds destroyed everything.”
At Ashimolowo’s rice farm, the workers said they had to make use of a number of traps to ensnare grass-cutters, which are regarded as the bane of rice plantation.
Rice, which has become a staple in Nigeria, used to be the crop of choice for farmers in a number of communities in the South-West like Ofada. Over the years, these have simply vanished.
However, some entrepreneurs who have the financial wherewithal are bringing back the locally produced rice.
In August, Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote reportedly signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Government on the establishment of a $1 billion integrated rice-producing company in Nigeria. Many other moguls have also diversified to rice farming and other agro- related ventures.
On why Pastor Ashimolowo went into farming, he explained it was the need to create jobs and encourage Nigerians to get back into agriculture.
“I believe we should not just talk but put our words into action.”
He regretted the company planted about 500 acres of cassava during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime.
Ashimolowo said no encouragement had been given into the earlier plan to make cassava a major ingredient of bread in the country since Obasanjo left.
“All the investment we put into the cultivation of cassava was a waste. Then we decided on rice as a result of the proximity of the land to Ofada. We realised that it had the potential of creating jobs and reduce importation.
“As far as we know, this is the biggest rice farm in the South-West and we intend to expand to 200 acres next year.”
Asked if his company got incentives from the Federal Government for the venture, Ashimolowo said his consultation with the former Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina was not finalised before Jonathan left office.
He expressed the hope that the farm would be provided with machinery under an arrangement that would enable it to produce large quantities of quality rice seeds which would be distributed to other farmers.
“We noticed that many rice farmers are still using mostly the subsistent method. If we get more machinery from the government, we can easily lend them out to other farmers.”
Ashimolowo said he was aware that a lot of rice farmers had been finding it difficult to cultivate the crop in Ofada. He said he succeeded as a result of a combination of methods employed.
“Of course, God made this possible, first of all. We also put in place a pot pourri of methods. We thought that if we could plant in large quantities, the impact of bird devastation would not be felt. We also ensured that no trees are within a mile radius of the farm on which birds can perch.
“Our plan is to continue to increase cultivation to drive down the price so that Ofada rice will no longer be seen as exotic. We are in discussion with the Seeds Council as well on the possibility of selling the rice seeds for distribution to other farmers.”
– UCHE OLEHI