Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, has turned his attention to agriculture.
A man who made his fortune in the cement industry, the Nigerian billionaire is now turning his attention to dairy, rice sugar farming and has put aside $800 million to buy 50,000 cattle in the hope of producing 500 million litres of milk annually by 2019.
Already, Mr Dangote has been voted one of the 50 most influential people in Africa by the Bloomberg magazine with a net worth pegged at $12.2 billion, up a $100 million from last year.
Unknown to many is that before Mr Dangote ventured in cement industry, where he made a fortune, Mr Dangote had at the age of 22 borrowed $3,000 from his uncle in order to import and sell agricultural commodities in Nigeria.
He thus started by selling sugar, rice, pasta, salt, cotton, millet, cocoa, textile and vegetable oil which he was importing into Nigeria.
Within three months, he had managed to repay his loan and started his dalliance with wealth. Today, Dangote is the wealthiest man living in the African continent with an estimated net worth of $17 billion.
The business empire that he began to build more than three decades ago, Dangote Group, is one of the largest private-sector employers in Nigeria as well as the most valuable conglomerate in West Africa.
The secret of his phenomenal success was that after some years in his importation business, he transformed into a producer of the products that he was importing. He always admits that changing from an importer to a manufacturer has so far been his best move. The move produced Dangote Group, an organization that today controls over 13 companies.
He says: “To succeed in business, you must build a brand and never destroy it. One competitive advantage I had when I ventured into manufacturing was my brand (Dangote), which I diligently built in the course of my trading.”
Mr Dangote has also announced that he will invest $3.8bn in sugar and rice, and $800m in the next three years.
The conglomerate plans to increase its production of sugar to 1.5-million tonnes a year by 2020 from 100,000 tonnes now and is seeking to add 1-million tonnes of rice.
The move is informed by a shortage of foreign exchange in Nigeria which has been forcing Mr Dangote to struggle to pay for imported goods, increasing the burden on local agriculture to meet demand for food from Nigeria’s population of more than 180-million.
With 90 per cent of Nigeria’s exporting earnings coming from oil, the falling crude oil prices have left the coffers empty and Mr Dangote foresees danger ahead if Nigeria does not produce its own food.
The company has established Dangote Rice Ltd and will list the unit on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
Dangote plans to cultivate 350,000ha of land for sugar cane and add 200,000ha for rice, according to the his company’s executive director Mr Edwin Devakumar. The company has ordered five plants for sugar milling and 10 for rice from Switzerland to be located in the north of the country, he said.
The cement and commodities tycoon has also invested in a fertilizer production company and a large oil refinery which will start operations later this year.
At the moment Nigeria. Africa’s most populous nation, is counting on Dangote to lead the way in expansive agriculture farming.