SAULAWA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Down a winding dirt track in this sleepy village in northern Nigeria lies a corn farm which looks much like the dozens that surround it. The difference is, this one is turning a profit.
"I can barely lift my 8-year-old. He's the fattest in the village," said Ibrahim Mustapha, 50, drawing laughter from his fellow farmers as he pretends to lift up his chubby son.
The Babban Gona or "Great Farm" project, in northern Kaduna state, is one of a handful where private investment is helping former subsistence farmers like Mustapha make profits for themselves and the companies backing them.
When President Goodluck Jonathan was elected two years ago, he pledged reforms that would transform the lives of tens of millions of farmers who live on less than $2 a day despite occupying some of Africa's most fertile land.
Oil remains the main source of foreign currency and state revenues, but agriculture is by far the biggest contributor to GDP, making up 40 percent of Africa's second largest economy.
With 170 million mouths to feed and a growing food import bill thanks to the disarray in the farming sector, agriculture ministry officials say there's no time to lose.
If productivity does not improve Nigeria could face a food crisis within a decade, its current account surplus would be wiped out and the credit worthiness of Africa's second biggest debt issuer would be under threat.
"If we did nothing, it would be a disaster," Agriculture Minister Akinwumi Adesina told Reuters in the capital.
"We don't eat oil, we don't drink it ... We cannot sustain the amount of money we use to import food," Adesina said, a Nigerian flag hanging behind his office chair.
In some cases, the imports substitute for things Nigerians are growing but can't get to market or lack the means to process.
The country is the second largest grower of citrus fruit in the world after China and yet it spends $200 million (131 million pounds) a year on imported fruit juice while its own produce rots, Adesina said.
It also produces 1.5 million tonnes of tomatoes annually of which 45 percent perish, while consumers spend $360 million on tomato paste imported from countries such as Italy and China.
CURING DUTCH DISEASE
To succeed, Adesina's reforms will need to reverse the inadvertent damage done to the sector by Africa's earliest and biggest oil and gas boom, which crowded out other commodities.
In the 1960s, Nigeria was the biggest exporter of peanuts in the world and had 27 percent of the palm oil trade. It remains one of the world's top cocoa growers, b