Nigeria, the world’s most populous black nation sits on thousands of hectares of arable land stretching from the fringes of the Sahara desert to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Some peasant farmers in Ebonyi, Ogun, Edo, Taraba, Cross River and Niger states eke out a living from primitive method of rice farming. The six states can produce enough rice for the whole of Africa.
Ironically, they cannot feed even a fraction of the 170 million people in Nigeria. Consequently, Nigeria’s food imports bill is nauseating.
The country spends $11 billion annually on wheat, rice, sugar and fish imports alone. Nigeria could easily be blackmailed by food exporting countries the way Russia is currently blackmailing the European Union with gas supply over the political crisis in Ukraine. The European Union’s naïve approach to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is primarily informed by fears of steep gas price hike which could trigger street riots at a time of high unemployment on the continent.
Nigeria risks a similar blackmail if concrete steps are not taken to reverse the danger lurking around the corner due to food insecurity.
Nigeria is losing from both ends to the unholy dependence on food imports. Besides the stupendous foreign exchange spent annually on food imports, the country’s unemployment rate is also escalated by the unhealthy development.
Timothy Prewitt, head of the United States Agency for International Development(USAID)in Nigeria, recently lamented that Nigeria loses 1.37 million direct jobs annually to rice imports. Prewitts’ statement boils down to the fact that rice production in Nigeria would create 1.37 million jobs annually. Nigeria’s avoidable and expensive rice imports inadvertently sustain 1.37 million jobs in the exporting countries annually.
The country’s perennial food insecurity has been traced to lack of access to viable land, absence of viable rice milling plants, primitive farming methods and inactive irrigation with potential for enhancing the rice production chain. The rulers of the country and even the organized private sector know these enemies like the palms of their hands.
Last month the Niger State government and Aliko Dangote, President of the Dangote Group and the world’s 23rd richest man, offered to collaborate to tackle the food insecurity and unemployment problems in the state and nation at large.
Dangote launched the campaign with a visit to Babangida Aliyu, Niger State governor, where he requested for 50,000 hectares of land for use in planting rice and sugarcane.
The Niger State governor who had all along been anxious of calming the frayed nerves of the teeming population of unemployed youth, promptly assured Africa’s richest man that he would not only get the land, but the state government would back up the venture with the provision of basic infrastructure like feeder roads among others.
Dangote would use 70 per cent of the land to be allocated for the project for his company’s direct farming of rice and sugarcane, while the remaining 30 per cent would be allocated to the out-grower scheme.
Under the out-grower scheme, Dangote would supply small farmers with inputs like fertilizers, seedlings and agrochemicals. The small farmers would also enjoy market and price guarantees as the company would buy their farm produce at economic rates. The company would also train the small farmers in modern farming skills and methods.
Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, Niger state commissioner for agriculture, is very optimistic about the job creation and rural development potentials of the proposed collaboration and Dangote’s decision to invest in Niger State.
Matane believes that the project would create 10, 000 direct jobs while the attendant out-grower scheme would create another 10, 000 jobs.
He said the project would open up the state’s rural community as rice mills would be established while agro sack manufacturers and others would generate jobs from the rice production chain.
Matane contends that the collaboration between Niger State and Dangote would improve the yield of local small farmers as they undergo training on modern farming techniques. The yield of the local small farmers is expected to rise from the current 2.5 tons to four tons per hectare.
Dangote plans to irrigate the project area to facilitate effective two-season farming. In other words, rice would be produced twice a year as irrigation would come in handy in tackling the challenges of dry season farming.
Dangote is at the forefront of the campaign to drive Nigeria’s industrialization and tackle food security problems. He has drastically reduced the country’s dependence on imported cement through massive investment in the industry.
After conquering the forex-guzzling cement armada, Dangote directed his aggressive investment machinery to the downstream sector of the oil industry where Nigeria flushes a colossal sum of $15 billion down the drain annually in the importation of refined petroleum products. The nation’s anachronistic, cash-guzzling refineries chip in a paltry 10 per cent of its daily refined petroleum needs. The Dangote Group has vowed to break the jinx of fuel imports dependence by sinking $9 billion into the construction of a mega refinery.
Given the industrial prowess of the Dangote Group, the collaboration between it and Niger state government in rice and sugarcane production may well flag off the last ditch battle against Nigeria’s nauseating food import bills.