Nigerian billionaire Abdul Samad Rabiu says Africa must cut dependence on food imports

Even with new treaty allowing grain to be exported from Ukrainian Black Sea ports, the impact of higher prices could still be severe in Africa, which imports most of its food and where the IMF predicts inflation could reach 12.2% this year.
Nigerian billionaire Abdul Samad Rabiou says it’s time for African countries to work together to create value chains across the continent and produce more goods for domestic consumption.

Rabiu is the CEO of BUA Group, a food, infrastructure, manufacturing and mining conglomerate. His company has invested across the continent to reduce its dependence on imports from Europe and Asia.

Last month, he spoke with CNN’s Eleni Giokos at the African CEO Forum in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

High inflation, food insecurity, energy prices: what are you going to do to solve some of these problems?

Rabiu: Part of the problem is that we import 80% of what we consume. For example, Africa imported more than 55 million tons of wheat last year, and wheat is one of the commodities that has really been hit hard by high prices. Since the beginning of the Ukrainian-Russian (conflict), we have been observing a situation where the price (for wheat) has increased from 250 to almost 600 dollars per ton. And you know that Africa is heavily dependent on Russian and Ukrainian wheat.

So how does this affect your contribution?

Rabiu: If you import and the price doubles, what do you do? We have to raise prices. And a lot of people really can’t afford it. Thus, we are seeing a decline in production, processing and consumption, and this is a big problem. That’s why I keep saying that we should look inward, do our best to add value to what we have. We must increase (our) production for the food security of the continent.

For example, you were in the pasta business. Why haven’t you been in yet Agriculture? I know wheat is hard to grow.

Rabiu: Wheat is difficult to grow, but we also deal in sugar and build the most advanced sugar plantation in Nigeria. It is a 20,000 hectare fully integrated sugar plantation with four parts: sugar refinery, sugar refinery, ethanol plant and power plant. We decided to do this because we realized we were spending a lot of money importing raw sugar, which can be easily grown and produced in Nigeria. Our raw sugar costs will drop sharply.
African Continental Free Trade Area aired (in 2021). Have you seen a real impact on your business?

Rabiu: The free trade zone is an amazing arrangement. We must all come together to enjoy the benefits. Of course, we also have infrastructure issues, and for the agreement to be successful, you need to clean up your infrastructure space, especially in areas like ports.

Do you still find it difficult?

Rabiu: I’ll give you an example: shipping goods from Nigeria to, say, Lome (in Togo, West Africa) is more expensive than from Nigeria to Brazil. And this is because we have ships without ports. So, these problems are there, and we need to fix our infrastructure.

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