Nigeria rice map
Dangote Rice launched a rice cultivation project in Nigeria and plans to grow it throughout the country.
LAGOS, NIGERIA —Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), while speaking at the Mo Ibrahim Forum in Morocco, said he believes billionaire businessman Aliko Dangote, owner of the Dangote Group, may become the largest exporter of rice in the world by 2021.

During the forum Adesina focused on Africa’s need to drive growth in agriculture. He recalled a meeting with Dangote in which the businessman described one of the ways the goal might be reached.

African Development Bank Group Akinwumi Adesina  president
Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB).

“I remember when I was minister of agriculture in Nigeria,” Adesina said. “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 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.”

Adesina narrated the role of Dangote and described what he (Dangote) said, which made it one of his happiest days as a minister in Nigeria.

“I said what exactly are you going to do,” Adesina said. “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.”

Adesina continued, “If they continue that policy, he would probably be the single largest producer of rice in the world, in about four years. The reason why I was so excited about that is that agriculture is cool, agriculture is a business … agriculture pays.”

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

The Dangote Group said that the three-party agreement between Dangote Rice Ltd., rice growers and the Sokoto state government that created jobs for 16,000 rice growers in Sokoto, Nigeria, was recently signed in mid-February.

Sokoto is the second of 14 states where Dangote Rice plans to launch the rice cultivation program. Its goal is to empower local farmers, create job opportunities for the communities and reduce migration to the cities, Dangote Rice said.

Dangote Group Aliko Dangote owner
Aliko Dangote, the chairman of Dangote Rice Ltd.

Aliko Dangote, the chairman of Dangote Rice Ltd., said he was moved to go into rice cultivation because of the genuine interest of the federal government to revive agriculture as the mainstay of the economy, and reduce importation of foods that could be produced locally.

He continued to say that Nigeria consumes 6.5 million tonnes of rice, which costs the nation over $2 billion dollars annually, pointing out that it is encouraging that the government now has policy direction that encourages private sector’s active participation in agriculture.

“In the next three years, we want to produce one million tonnes of quality rice and make it available and affordable to the people,” Dangote said. “We hope to do 150, 000 hectares and when we are done, Nigeria will not have anything to do with importation of rice. Dangote Rice growers scheme is committed to creating significant number of jobs, increasing the incomes of smallholder 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.”

Dangote said the agreement will help diversify the economy, alleviate poverty and reduce the nation's import bill.