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Seeds to riches: The story of a 29-year-old millionaire

Sumaka Japhet is a young rice seed cultivator and agricultural entrepreneur. We had heard of his success and local fame as a millionaire – and during one of our field visits, we travelled a long and bumpy road to meet him.

Our truck bounced relentlessly along a red dirt track that crossed the fertile rolling landscape of Benue State, Nigeria. As we drove the final kilometre or so down a grassy, overgrown trail, Sumaka’s village finally came into sight. Just one year before our visit, during the harvest, nomadic herdsmen had attacked and destroyed his small rural village and its crops – but today, in what is left of the village, day-to-day activities go on as usual.

Sumaka greeted us under the village mango tree with a broad, warm smile. He told me, “no one believes a guy like me from a place like this could be a millionaire, but you’re looking at one.”

As we walked through fields of watermelon and chili peppers, Sumaka told about his life growing up in this remote rural community. His father worked hard cultivating rice using traditional methods, earning enough from what he sold to pay Sumaka’s school fees.

Somehow, Sumaka had always known that he would come back to farm those rice fields after completing his education – but he had never imagined how different things would be for him.

In 2017, after finishing university, he heard about and joined the IFAD-supported Value Chain Development Programme. The project gave him a start-up kit containing fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides, as well as quality, certified seed – and those few items forever changed the way he cultivated rice.

That first year, Sumaka harvested more than 2.5 tonnes per hectare – almost three times more than his father typically harvested using traditional methods. “I was just so excited,” he told me. “And I tell you, when my father saw the results, it made me so happy.”

The next year, the programme invited Sumaka to participate in a four-month training on rice seed production. He also received technical support, including an irrigation pump, and gradually increased his harvest of high-quality certified seed. Each growing season, he sold the seed and invested his earnings into the next.

Sumaka lost a season’s crop in 2018 because of the herdsmen’s attack – but that didn’t stop him. In 2019, he replanted and sold his seed harvest of 3.5 tonnes per hectare to the project for 1.2 million Nigerian naira (about US$3,000). Sumaka, at twenty-nine years old, was a millionaire.

“What I can earn in three months is more than what many young people working in offices in government jobs earn in a year,” he said. “Here, I can spend time in the village with my family – and that is important to me.”

Sumaka’s entrepreneurial spirit comes alive as he eyes the future. He is making plans to join with other young people trained by IFAD in rice seed production to open a certified rice seed business. Moreover, he is encouraging farmers to use high-quality certified seed by giving them starter kits of his certified seed for free. He always asks farmers to try planting his certified seeds side by side with their traditional seeds to compare their yield and quality – because he’s sure they’ll be back to buy more.

Learn more about IFAD’s work in Nigeria.