Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), at the weekend in Morocco challenged African nations to focus agriculture to drive growth, wealth and create jobs on the continent, as can be judged from the experience of Africa’s richest man and billionaire businessman, Aliko Dangote, who is set become the largest exporter of rice in the world by 2021.

Akinwunmi, who spoke at the Mo Ibrahim Forum said for this to materialize, Nigeria’s Federal Government need to continue the policy that was in place while he served as the country’s Minister of Agriculture under the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

He recalled the day Alhaji Dangote visited his office to announce plans to invest $300m (which he later raised to $1bn) in local rice production was his happiest as minister, stressing that “I was so excited about that is that agriculture is cool, agriculture is a business…agriculture pays.”

It would be recalled that a tripartite agreement put together by the Dangote Rice Limited is expected to create jobs for 16,000 out-grower rice farmers in Sokoto was recently signed with the state government and rice growers in the country after which he launched the rice out-growers scheme in Sokoto.

Adesina told the gathering: “I remember when I was minister of Agriculture in Nigeria. Aliko Dangote was there, and he was our biggest importer at the time, and he and I used to have all the time to dialogue.

“One day, I was in my office, about 10 O’clock, Aliko walks in, Ngozi was minister of finance. Aliko bangs on my door and said ‘minister I came to see you’, and I said ‘what are we going to disagree on this time?’

“He said no, I have actually looked at the policies, and the policies you put in place for import substitution are very right policies. So, I have changed my business model from being an importer to being a local producer.

“I said what exactly are you going to do? He said I will put in $300 million into producing and processing rice in Nigeria. I said yippee! I went home, I told my wife, my best day as minister.

“He comes back three months after that, he says I have changed my mind, I said ‘what in the world happened?’ He said no, I have changed my mind from $300 million to a billion dollars.

According to a statement by the Dangote Group, the rice out-growers scheme is committed to creating significant number of jobs, increasing the incomes of smallholder farmers and ensuring food security in the country.

Adesina was named Forbes Africa Person of the Year 2013, while Dangote won the same award in 2014.

Dangote, Chairman of Dangote Rice Limited, said he was moved to go into rice cultivation in support of the Federal Government’s genuine interest to revive agriculture as the mainstay of the economy, reducing importation of foods that could be produced locally.

He lamented that Nigeria consumes 6.5mt of rice at the cost of over $2bn annually pointing out that it is heartening that the government now has policy direction that encourages active private sector’s participation in agriculture.

Continuing, he explained: “In the next three years we want to produce one million tons of quality rice and make it available and affordable to the people. We hope to do 150,000ha and when we are done, Nigeria will not have anything to do with importation of rice.

“Dangote Rice out growers’ scheme is committed to creating significant number of jobs, increasing the incomes of smallholders farmers and ensuring food security in the country by providing high quality seeds, fertilizers and agro-chemicals as well as technical assistance on best agricultural practice to farmers.

“This scheme will help to diversify the economy, alleviate poverty and reduce the nation’s import bill. The scheme has been designed as a one stop solution for the rice value chain,” Dangote stated.

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