Friday, 23 November 2012 00:00
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FG articulates vision to unlock Nigeria’s agriculture potential

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, at the convocation lecture at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, said that Nigeria had huge agricultural potential waiting to be unlocked.
With an arable land potential of 98 million hectare, out of which 84 million hectare was cultivatable, he said: “Nigeria’s agricultural potential remains untapped. Only 34 million ha is cultivated or 48 per cent of the available land for agriculture.

“The FAO report on Competitive Commercial Agriculture for Africa, shows that Africa, especially Nigeria and Mozambique, have vast areas of savannahs that can become the breadbasket for the rest of the world, if properly harnessed.
“According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, the value of agriculture in Nigeria at constant 2010 dollars was 99 billion dollars,” he stated.

Adesina said it was  projected to grow $256 billion by 2030, adding that the growth was expected to come from yield expansion 44 per cent, area expansion 33 per cent and diversification into high value crops 23 per cent.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, however, said that Nigerian agriculture had potential and urged for articulation of a clear vision to “achieve a hunger-free Nigeria, through an agricultural sector that drives income growth, accelerates achievement of food and nutritional security, generates employment and transforms Nigeria into a leading player in global food markets.

Adesina said: “To turn things around, we have embarked on a major effort to unlock the potential of Nigeria’s agriculture and to move the country from its ignoble status as one of the largest food importers in the world, to a food self-sufficient country, with expanded exports.
“We are focused on achieving this through the rapid transformation of agricultural value chains. We are treating agriculture as a business. Agriculture is no longer a development program. Let me be clear: this is not a populist approach or one that distributes the largesse of government for cheap political gains.
“Our focus is fixing structural issues that have hampered the performance of the agricultural sector. Just like building a house, the foundation must be solid. We are building strong policy, institutional, investment and infrastructure foundations for the transformation of the agricultural sector.

“Gains will not come easy, but as we do the right things, we will succeed in unleashing the power of agriculture to feed our nation and turn Nigeria into a leading exporter of food,” he stressed.
According to him, the backbone of any agricultural revolution was access of farmers to modern agricultural inputs, especially fertilizers and seeds, while the Federal Government, for decades, procured and distributed fertilizers.
He added: “The government system was corrupt and undermined the private sector. It did not deliver fertilizers to genuine farmers. Instead, rich commercial and powerful political farmers hijacked the subsidized fertilizers.
“Opportunistic middlemen sold them to neighboring countries, ripping off farmers.

He expressed bitterly that unscrupulous traders had sold sand to government as fertilizers and grains as seed, adding that only 11 per cent of farmers got the government-distributed fertilizers.
“The policy has spurred private sector activity to build supply chains that reach farmers – what they have never done before. The new policy has eliminated the middlemen and rent seekers from the system, while targeting genuine farmers.
“We are focused on developing agricultural value chains that will provide new income opportunities for farmers, for all of our major crops. Let us take the case of rice, where government policy is to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production by 2015.

“Nigeria is now the largest importer of rice in the world. As our population rises, demand for rice is projected to rise from the current level of 5 million MT to 36 million MT by 2050. Unless Nigeria begins an aggressive import substitution programme for rice, it will spend $150 billion annually importing rice by 2050.  
“The nation will be broke. Worse, a lot of the rice imported into Nigeria, especially from Thailand and India, is 10-15 year old rice coming out of their strategic grain reserves. It is being dumped on our market and that is why it is so cheap.
“But as that happens, Nigerian rice farmers are being run out business. To encourage the production and milling of local rice, the Federal government has raised tariffs on imported brown rice and finished rice,” he stressed.
He also said that considering  the case of cassava value chains, Nigeria had been  the largest producer of cassava in the world with 34 million metric tonnes per annum contributes zero percent in terms of value added chain in global trade.

Adesina pointed out: “We are turning this around. We are rapidly developing the value chains for cassava into new products that will expand markets and raise incomes for cassava farmers.  
“We are expanding the production of high quality cassava flour for use in composite flours to substitute for some of the imported wheat flour being used in the baking industry. Corporate bakers have started commercializing the the inclusion of 20 per cent high quality cassava flour in bread. The minister noted.

“The minister said he was pleased inform Nigerians that starting in December 2012 UTC wiould begin exporting cassava bread to ECOWAS region, starting with Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic. Think about it: that means that we are turning what used to be a non-tradable commodity into a tradable commodity to earn us foreign exchange.
“Nigeria will become the largest producer of cassava bread in Africa and help all other African countries to do same and reduce dependence on wheat imports. That is what I call market leadership from innovation.
“We are taking advantage of external markets. We secured a total of 2.2 million MT of dried cassava chips exports to China. This amount is 200,000 MT greater than our 2015 projected plan. We have started the export of 1.1 million MT of cassava chips to China. This will earn farmers $136 million – a great development for many of the farmers who for a long time had lacked access to markets.”

“We were able to secure financing of over $ 200 million from the China Exim Bank for the procurement and installation of 18 large scale industrial cassava flour processing plants, with capacity of 1.3 Million MT of High Quality Cassava Flour. They will be in place within 18 months. The processing plants will be run and owned by the private sector and meet all of Nigeria’s cassava flour need for up to 40 per cent substitution for wheat flour.
“Government provided 30 million bundles of cassava cuttings, free of charge, to cassava farmers across the country this year – a first in the agricultural history of Nigeria,” he noted.