There is a popular adage in Igbo Land which says that ‘aka aja aja na ebute onu mmanu mmanu’ which simply means that hard work brings with it, many pleasant rewards. Agriculture today is often relegated to the background by youths who believe so much in white collar jobs and the vain promises of the government.
But here is a young man who having taken his academic pursuits to the post graduate levels, decided to take a step-in rice farming. Few years down the line, he is the chairman of ANESTAN Farms and Agro Allied Industries Limited, the producers of Uncle Stan Rice, a widely consumed rice brand in Nigeria.
In an interview with Fides Inspirational Personality, he tells his story of struggles, determination and success.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Stanislaus Anenechukwu Nnaka. I am from Ogboji in Orumba South L.G.A of Anambra State, the second child of Sir and Lady James Nnaka. I am married with three kids. And I am the Chairman of ANESTAN Farms and Agro Allied Industries Limited, which produces Uncle Stan Rice.
I grew up in my village in Ogboji, where I was always going to work in the rice farms. Though, after primary school, I had to go to Akpu Seminary to further my education. Then, I read Public Administration in Anambra State University, thereafter National Youth Service took me to Akwa Ibom State. As a Corp member, I had longed to join the clearing and forwarding business. So, in the course of completing my service year, I gained admission to do a Postgraduate Studies in Shipping and Management, which I did for a year. Then I joined a travelling agency in Lagos, where I prepared tickets for those travelling. However, things were not working the way I wanted, so I returned to Anambra State, where this journey into Agriculture began.
I personally like venturing into things that are not common. I don’t follow the crowd. So, I began this venture in 2016 as an attachment, where I buy from the local farmers and then I sell to buyers. It was going well, until I had a big contract which I was paid for, but the suppliers failed to deliver. When I enquired why they did that, they had no sane reason. It was then I looked for an alternative way to begin farming and supplies myself. That was how ANESTAN Farms and Agro Allied Industries Nigeria Limited began. In 2017, from the little money I raised, I had to buy farm implements, other machines for the mills and employed manpower for production. From 2017 when we started fully, we have been able to do much. Right now, we can only praise God for the height he has taken us to.
Although, we encountered financial challenges. You know in this part of the world, you hardly can secure loans from the bank, government funding also, has its limitation. Even when our warehouse was consumed by the fire outbreak caused by the tanker explosion in February, nothing was done about it. We had to start from the scratch without any compensation from the government. For me, that was a major setback, but I was not deterred from achieving my purpose. So, I had to dispose all the destroyed items and set up the mill again.
What does ANESTAN Farms do?
We are into farming, processing and packaging of locally produced rice. We have our farms in Ogboji, covering over 150 plots of land. We have been planting and have cultivated for this year and are to commence harvesting anytime soon. Though, we are supposed to plant twice in a year, but with the irrigation challenges, we are stuck to once a year. In each year we farm, we have ten to fifteen thousand tons. And we also buy from other farmers, just to meet up with supplies.
You studied Public Administration, what then prompted your journey to Agriculture?
You know, once you find yourself in this country, you will have to look for a way to survive, else, the harsh economic realities will get you stranded. When I got the opportunity to meet with the local farmers, who later failed me, I had to think outside the box. I customized a bag, did my research on the implements I would use, and I had to set up mine. I realized it was profitable, so I had to get down from my high horse and I went to the farms.
What do you regard as your greatest achievement in life?
Being able to nurture ANESTAN from the little start to the heights we have seen ourselves today. Buying two electric Mill machines, Stoners and Sorters, customized bags, in two years, makes me feel fulfilled.
What is your greatest challenge as a rice farmer?
Though not a failure, but a setback, was when we were denied loan by the bank. Though it took its toll on us, but we had to adjust, and we succeeded with what we had.
Who is your mentor?
I have a mentor, because with the kind of orientation I got, I do not see anyone as a competitor, that’s because I believe everyone has a parallel way to move. When Coscharis started his rice farms, some people became scared that he would take over the rice market. I was unperturbed because, Coscharis rice cannot feed everyone in a local government let alone a state. So, we need other farmers too.
So, I look up to Coscharis as a mentor and someone I could be like and work hard to be better than in this line of business.
You noted that you began fully in 2017, how were you able to get your business grow this fast?
I am just managing to do that alone with no government funding or bank loan. I only work with the little I have, and I don’t believe in failures as setbacks, I see failures as stepping stones.
What is your market reach?
We are covering three major markets in Lagos, and then in Awka, Uga, Umunze, Ekwulobia, Onitsha market. Also, in Aba, Port Harcourt and Bayelsa.
Where do you see ANESTAN in the next five years?
We would have gone farther than this ooo. I see our mills in our permanent site with a lot of international partners running after us. And then, we would be like or be better than Coscharis.
If you were to begin life afresh, would you be a rice farmer?
Sure, I will. With the way Nigeria is going, I know everyone would turn back to Agriculture sooner than we imagine.
Graduates these days run away from Agriculture, seeing it to be not befitting career path. How can you judge that?
Well, only those with little understanding see agriculture as a low-income career path. I still go to the farms even in my present height. I encourage young ones to pick their hoes and go back to the farms instead of constituting nuisance in the village or on the streets. They should begin with whatsoever little they have. I did not start this business with millions, I had little when I began. But little by little I channelled my income into the business and today it’s a better story. When I bought my machines, I only had just the money for the machine. Subsequently, I raised money to clear it off the wharf and gradually things fell in place.
But if I had waited to get millions before starting the business, maybe I would be loitering in the streets looking for what to eat.
You can enrol in cooperatives and acquire one or two farms to cultivate, then with hardwork, you will prosper. An Igbo proverb states that ‘aka aja aja na ebute onu mmanu mmanu’ that is hardwork brings reward.
How would you compare the Nigerian made rice with foreign made rice?
There is no comparison. Local rice as we call it is far much better than foreign rice because it is not stored and preserved for years like the foreign made rice. Which we all know is not good to our health, because they are stored with many toxic chemicals, which are poisonous to our system.
So, Nigerians should cultivate and consume their locally made rice.
Thank you so much for your time Mr. Stanislaus, it was a nice time with you.
It was my pleasure, thank you.