Everest Amaefule, Abuja
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, has said that his greatest challenge since assuming office in November 2015 is convincing the Nigerian elite on the need to support investment in agriculture.
Also, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has earmarked $6m for cassava and rice production in three states in the country.
Ogbeh, who spoke to newsmen at the inauguration of the State Partnership for Agriculture by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Abuja on Thursday, said systemic support for agriculture from the banks was also lacking.
He said, “The biggest challenge has been trying to persuade the Nigerian elite – political, academic and professional – who are totally disconnected from agriculture. They talk about it on television and newspapers but agriculture happens in practice on the soil.
“Getting them reconnected will take quite a while. Bankers are not interested. There is no support to agricultural credit, fertiliser quality and management, seed control and seed quality. These are severally lacking in the system. And we have to reengineer the consciousness of Nigerians to respond to the new reality of our situation. It will take a while.”
Also speaking with newsmen, the Deputy Director, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. James Nyoro, said the State Partnership for Agriculture would enable Nigeria to move from being net importers of food to net exporters of food.
He added that the foundation would spend $6m on the programme in which Kaduna, Benue and Kogi states had been picked as pilot states.
Nyoro said, “For us at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the programme is going to be catalytic in helping the Nigerian government to achieve its vision for food security, reduce food imports, and increase agriculture productivity so that they can raise many millions of Nigerians out of poverty.
“Therefore, one of the areas we are going to work on is state partnership because we do know that action takes place at the state. That is where innovations are tested, whether you are talking about cassava processing and marketing or whether you are talking about rice; action takes place at the states.”
In a prepared speech read on behalf of the ministry, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, said more than 35 varieties of cassava had been developed and registered in the country.
The varieties, he said, had considerably increased the production of cassava to make Nigeria the largest producer of cassava in the world with an annual output of 45 million metric tonnes.
He said, “Flour mills are being encouraged to substitute at least 10 per cent high quality cassava flour for wheat flour. The master bakers have been more positive in responding to this policy and we will sustain our demand for inclusion of high quality cassava flour in bread in Nigeria.
“The impact of the quest of government to achieve food sufficiency is most evident in the production of rice. A total of six million rice farmers have been reached with improved rice varieties through the e-wallet system in the past few years. This has resulted in the rise of the total cumulative cultivated rice area by two million metric tonnes in 2015 even as the number of integrated rice mills in the country grew from just two in 2011 to 21 by 2015.
“The aggregate milling capacity of the large scale integrated rice mills in the country at present is put at 1,041,200 metric tonnes of paddy rice per annum. Three existing mills are expected to embark on expansion to add 602,800 metric tonnes per annum to their collective capacity. Another seven new mills expected to come on stream soon would add another 439,000 metric tonnes per annum to the national milling capacity.”
He added that the development of strategic partnership like the SPA would go a long way to contribute to the country’s quest for food self-sufficiency in the next few years.PUNCH.