Reuters | Mon Mar 29, 2010
By Amena Bakr
DUBAI (Reuters) - Nigeria is offering to lease farmland to Gulf countries seeking food security and will allow investors to export all of their produce, the head of a private Nigerian agriculture consultancy firm said on Monday.
Gulf Arab countries reliant on food imports have intensified efforts over the last year to buy land in developing nations ranging from Pakistan to the Sudan and Ethiopia.
"Nigeria has the terrain to provide 100 percent of the Gulf's food needs," Enbong Jimie Idiong, chief executive of Global Corp Ltd, told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of an industry conference in Dubai.
Global Corp Ltd is working as a consultant to the Nigerian government on ways to develop the agriculture sector, Idiong said.
Nigeria has around 71.2 million hectares of farmland, of which less that 50 percent is being used, according to data from the firm.
"We need investment to fully utilize this land and we will allow the investors to export back 100 percent of the crop and this will create employment opportunities for people in Nigeria," said Idiong.
The land could be leased for up to 30 to 40 years at a cost of around $10,000 per hectare for that period, he said.
"Because of the large size of land we can offer investors as much as they want, and there is no particular kind of crop that can't be grown in Nigeria."
For years Nigeria relied on oil production to fuel its growth, and paid little attention diversification, said Idiong.
CURSE OF OIL
"The oil is a curse, and all of these large oil companies are causing a lot of pollution and I think for our generation this is a time we need to pay more attention to developing agriculture."
Asked what type of guarantees could be presented to investors, a common concern for Gulf nations when considering investments in Africa, Idiong said the government would back any deals.
"Before you step in to invest one penny you will have a sovereign guarantee from the government," he said.
Developing countries all over the world have been competing to attract foreign investors seeking food security to buy or lease land under attractive terms.
Last May, Pakistan offered investors 6 million acres of farmland to lease under long term agreements, but will require outsiders to share half of their crop with local growers.
So far Nigeria has not signed any deals with Gulf nations to lease farmland.
"Regrettably this has to do with the attitude of our officials who are not proactive, I don't understand why Saudi and the UAE have gone to places like Pakistan and Sudan where climate and political conditions are less stable," said Idiong. "We are just not marketing ourselves enough."Foreign investors have acquired some 15-20 million hectares of farmland in poorer countries since 2006, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.