Joseph Ununu, 45, learned early in life to grow rice; it was a family vocation. But a pest infestation of rice fields in Abakaliki, Eastern Nigeria, in the 1990s, took away his zeal. The pests devastated his four-hectare rice farm, forcing him to shift attention to milling, which only earned marginal income for his family.
In 2006, USAID’s Maximizing Agricultural Revenue and Key Enterprises in Targeted Sites (MARKETS) program changed the fortunes of many rice farmers and processors in the area—including Ununu. They were introduced to best practices in rice farming, high-yielding rice varieties, and use and application of herbicides.
Even though Ununu participated in these training sessions on rice cultivation, he was not enthusiastic initially; he stayed focused on milling.
However, after hearing from other farmers who benefited from USAID’s program, in 2009 he returned to rice farming on 12 hectares of dispersed farmlands in Abakaliki. With careful application of what he had learned, Ununu says that he was amazed at the growth rate of his crops. “I had to leave the four rice mills for my family to manage, and focused attention on nurturing my rice farms,’’ he says.
Ununu’s yields have earned him substantial income. He harvested more than 330 bags of paddy rice of 100 kilograms each, earning $2,000 to purchase two modern processing machines designed to mill long-grain rice. He also earned more than $3,000 from another sale which enabled him to send his first son to university and meet other family needs. Ununu still has more than 70 bags of paddy rice in his warehouse. He employs 30 people in his rice mill and engages more than 60 farmhands on his rice fields. Last year, Ununu earned more than $13,000 from growing rice.
“Thanks to USAID, I am a proud member of my community and an employer of labor,’’ he says.