The expression of interest by Nigeria’s leading agribusiness and cement investor in Sudan is grist to the mill of apostles of the African Continental Free Trade Area, who want to raise the level of intra-African trade up from a paltry 12%.
Vera Songwe, secretary general of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, is among the champions of AfCFTA. From the stage of the conference, she spotted the chairman of Dangote Industries Limited in the front row: “You know that when Dangote is here, there is serious business to be done.”
“We will be investing, definitely, yes,” Aliko Dangote told The Africa Report. “What I found most interesting was [the opportunity in] agriculture”.
“I had a discussion with Prime Minister Abdella Hamdok, and he was telling me about their progress, especially in wheat,” Dangote says. “They have a hybrid heat-resistant variety, and in two years they have been able to reach up to 50% self-sufficiency.”
Sugar and wheat will be the future of agriculture in Sudan,” says Dangote. “We are very good at running factories, so that might be one key area that we go into.”
Sudan has been wrestling with huge import bills for basic commodities. Provided with specialised seedstock from the African Development Bank, the scheme to grow wheat has allowed the administration to remove subsidies on bread.
These structural transformations across the economy can help Sudan mitigate some of the pain reforms can bring, says Hafez Ghanem World Bank Vice President for Eastern and Southern Africa. “The pain is immediate, the benefits take time”.
Dangote says he is impressed with the reform trajectory of the country. “They have done very well, and we want to participate in the economy. In particular agriculture and agribusiness and processing, perhaps flour.”
The group is no longer in the flour-milling business in Nigeria. “We actually sold that business to Olam, and it would not be good to sell something and go back and start again,” says Dangote. The flour division was sold in 2019 for N120bn ($290mn).
But Sudan’s proximity to huge consumer demand for soft commodities in Egypt and the Middle East makes it “a different game”, says Dangote. “Sudan can be the breadbasket of that region. They have massive irrigated land available, over 800,000 hectares, just in that particular [wheat growing] area”. A real contrast to doing agriculture in Saudi Arabia “where it is mainly desert”.
“Sugar and wheat will be the future of agriculture in Sudan,” says Dangote. “We are very good at running factories, so that might be one key area that we go into.”
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