Africa Point Group: Mr. Dhrolia, before we start talking about the exciting future that the African Milling plant brings to the Katanga Province, can you elaborate as to why you have decided to invest in the agriculture sector in the DRC?
Mr Dhrolia: We started life as the mining company, SOMIKA, and every year we used to provide maize flour to all our workers and every year, the prices would vary from 14 USD to 22 USD per bag. This fluctuation in the price drove us to study the agriculture sector in depth.
When we consider the developing countries, we see that agriculture is always one of the pillars of the economy. In the past the DRC exported rubber, and tea. We have plenty of water, which other countries don’t have, and we have an abundance of arable fertile land. Considering all the factors, we recognized the demand and need and, more importantly, we knew that the time for such investment was right.
APG: Terra S.P.R.L was the first agriculture venture of SOMIKA’s please elaborate on its development to date.
We started the Terra farm in 2010. In 2009 we undertook some seed trials on 30 hectares to understand the response of different seeds and variety of crops. In 2010 we decided to start the project focusing on maize. Maize provides for a staple diet, but unfortunately Congo depends on Zambia, Tanzania, and South Africa for it.
We have water, we have land, and we have the market, so we asked ourselves why not grow it here? At some point we were farming at 500ha and reached 4,000 tons of maize production. Unfortunately no one was able to buy that amount at once from us. This is when we realized we needed to integrate further and the Africa Milling concept was born at the end of 2010. In 2011 we commenced the building of a state of the art milling facility.
APG: In less then 3 years you built a world-class plant that has started production of maize flour in May 2015. What is the initial production plan?
Because of the power constrains we will initially operate the plant at 50-60% of its 336 tones per day capacity. In July we will increase the production.
APG: In the next three years Zambia will be your biggest supplier of corn. When will Katanga farmers be in position to supply enough input to feed the plant at 100%. How will this affect the prices?
Today Terra is farming 1,600 ha. In the next three years we have a plan to hit 7.500 ha, so we will be able to supply 50% of the maize for our own milling requirements. People are motivated knowing that African Milling is in Katanga. Farmers will get paid on day one, if their maize quality is right. For a real farmer the plant is going to make a big difference.
The majority of our food comes from Zambia, so we base our prices on that market. Until the DRC is self-sufficient and can oversupply, the prices will not change. Everyone has this perception that prices will drop by 1/3. Congo has its costs, we import our seeds, our fertilizers, and expertise, and our cost of farming is higher because we need to prepare the land.
Interview by AFRICA POINT GROUP / www.africapointgroup.com