By Dipo Olowookere Rice is a staple food consumed by many Nigerians, but it is unfortunate that the country relies on importation of the commodity to meet local demands. However, Africa\u2019s richest man, Mr Aliko Dangote, is determined to ensure rice importation in Nigeria becomes a thing of the past. This he is doing by aggressively investing in the rice sector and on Wednesday, Mr Dangote laid a foundation stone for the construction of a multi-billion Naira rice processing mill in Hadin, Jigawa State. This is part of the business mogul\u2019s Rice Outgrower Scheme in Jigawa State and the mill has the capacity to process 16 metric tons of paddy rice per hour when completed. The plant will also in one year process paddy rice worth N14 billion bought directly from the famers in Jigawa at market rate. Speaking at the ground breaking ceremony in Hadin, Kaugama local government area, Mr Dangote explained that the commencement of the construction of the integrated rice processing plant was the culmination of series of events which began with the signing of a $1 billion agreement with the federal government for the integrated rice production in Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kano, Niger and Jigawa States. \u201cWe have continued to pioneer new approaches to empowering our primary stakeholders and our farmers, through the Dangote outgrowers programme thereby creating thousands of jobs, increasing incomes, poverty reduction in rural communities by providing high quality agro-inputs, technical support and secured market for farmers. \u201cAlso, creating access to finance, mechanization and irrigation services so as to enhance agricultural productivity,\u201d he stated. Recalling that the Dangote Rice limited started the outgrowers scheme in 2016 with thousands of hectares of land\u00a0 in Hadejia, Jigawa state, creating over 10,000 jobs (direct and indirect) to farmers, the business mogul said with the new ultra-modern mill enough paddy rice will be grown and harvested for processing. According to him, the mill which will take only months for installation and commissioning is the first in the series of five other mills coming up in Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi and Niger States in the first phase, while in the second phase, other mills will be built in Nasarawa, Kogi, and other states. \u201cWhen these planned six mills come fully on stream, we will achieve a capacity of seven hundred thousand metric tons per annum of Parboiled rice, which will make Dangote Rice the largest rice producer in Africa and will make a bold step in making Nigeria self-sufficient in Rice production, stop importation Nduka save the nation foreign exchange,\u201d Mr Dangote said. The industrialist stated further that towards co-creating value for all stakeholders, the company has engaged about 20,000 out growers who are expected to produce an average of 180,000 tons of paddy rice on about 30,000 hectares of land. \u201cWe are focused on engaging in the region of 300,000 farmers in the next 12 months when our rice mills are all functional and we achieve steady state." \u201cWe will continue to launch massive agricultural projects across the country in rice and dairy farming. Our push for backward integration in providing our own raw materials on a massive scale has led to the planned investment of $4.6 billion over the next three years in sugar, rice and dairy production alone. That will eliminate the country\u2019s reliance on imported materials, and the foreign exchange headaches that come with it,\u201d he said. In his opening remarks, the Dangote Group Executive Director, Mr Devakumar Edwin, explained that the Dangote Rice team has been involved in scaling up the outgrower operations to at least 5,000 hectares this season and this will very soon increase and grow to over 15,000 hectares cultivated per cycle or season to fully optimise operations. He said the establishment of a multi-billion Naira state-of-the-art integrated rice processing facility to process at least 260 metric tons of rice paddy per day grown which is produced from thousands of local rice out growers within Jigawa State is a giant step forward and expresses his company\u2019s confidence and faith in local farmers to continuously stand with Dangote to make this project a success. Located on 25 hectares site in Hadin, Mr Edwin noted that the mill is earmarked to begin operations in the last quarter of 2018. \u201cDuring the construction phase and when it becomes fully operational, hundreds of employment opportunities will be created, knowledge transference and skills developed among our teeming youthful population thereby boosting local economy.\u201d According to him, \u201cthe Jigawa famers are in for a good times as the 125,000 metric tons of paddy rice that this plant requires for processing will be brought from the farmers of Jigawa for an estimated purchase price of N14 billion per annum. This is a huge benefit for the farmers in Jigawa. \u201cThis mill will be producing high quality parboiled rice that competes with the best in the world this is in-line with our continuous aim to touch the lives of millions who believe in the Dangote brand." \u201cJigawa State is endowed and blessed with vast fertile land, water resources, climate and progressive people, as well as one of the fastest growing agricultural destinations in Nigeria, was identified as an ideal location for us to set up our first facility in Nigeria. This obviously reinforces our commitment to supporting the efforts of the present administration in developing a robust agro-industry in Nigeria. \u201cWe made commitment to Nigerians that we will produce 1 million metric ton of quality parboiled rice. Since then we have embarked on several initiatives towards achieving this objective with support and collaboration from state and federal government agencies, ministries and departments, non-governmental organisations, community based organisations, traditional and financial institutions, etc., we continue to pioneer new approaches to empowering our primary stakeholders and our farmers, through the Dangote outgrower program thereby creating thousands of jobs, increasing incomes, poverty reduction in rural communities by providing high quality agro-inputs, technical support and secured market for farmers.\u201d On his part, Governor of Jigawa State, Mr Abubakar Badaru, expressed delight at the stage of the Dangote Rice project in the state saying it was in line with the vision of the Invest Jigawa, an organ set up to accelerate investments in the state. He said Jigawa is one of the States reputed to be on top on ease of doing business in Nigeria saying the Dangote Rice presence in the state is a pointer to the fact. He added that the state is also in the forefront of the diversification efforts of the federal government from oil to non-oil ventures especially agriculture. The Governor promised that the state will be willing to do whatever it will take to ensure the Dangote rice operate smoothly to the satisfaction of all parties in the state.