Edo State Government recently organised a one-day agricultural summit where stakeholders brainstormed on ways of turning the state into an agro-industrial hub aimed at boosting food production and employment generation. Adibe Emenyonu, who covered the summit, presents the various views, comments, and outcome
The importance of agriculture in nation building cannot be over-emphasized. This is because of its essence in the provision of food and source of raw materials for industries.
In recognition of this fact, Governor Adams Oshiomhole decided to gather experts in the field of farming to brainstorm on the possible ways of increasing food supply and at the same time use it to create employment opportunities for the teeming unemployed youth.
Welcoming participants, Edo State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Hon Abdul Oroh, said the state government was determined to fight poverty through agriculture. Oroh, who noted that Edo State future depends on agriculture, said the state government has assessed the challenges of agriculture from different perspectives in order to achieve its big dream.
According to the commissioner, “Edo government had invited expects and other service providers to detect areas to where the farmers are lacking and to make necessary improvement. Edo government is putting all machineries to ensure agriculture has come to stay as real business”
Delivering a keynote address, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, said it was regrettable that Nigeria spent N1.3trillion on the importation of rice, wheat sugar and fish.
He disclosed that Nigeria consumes five million metric tonnes of rice annually and warned that the country’s continuous dependence on imported rice for consumption may cost her about $150bn by 2050 if steps were not taken to raise rice production.
Adesina, who promised to make a difference from his predecessors, noted that his job is not to be a minister for importation of food but unlocking the country’s potentials. He pointed out that no nation can claim to be independent unless it can feed itself.
As according to him, “the rise in population is a corresponding demand for food. Because we are committed to repositioning agriculture to drive the economy, the ministry will distribute the new cocoa hybrid free of charge to all the cocoa producing state across the country.
“We want to restore the lost glory in the world trade of cocoa by making sure that these new cocoa hybrid are distributed to all cocoa producing states to replace the old varieties.” He said.
Akinwunmi noted that the summit was in tandem with the FG plan to reposition agriculture to drive the economy, and lauded Edo State for being the second largest producer of palm oil, and the sixth producer of cassava and cocoa in the country.
To this end, he disclosed that plans were underway to build a large-scale cassava processing plant capable of producing 240 metric tonnes per day and explained that local production of cassava floor would save the country N248 billion spent on the importation of the item.
Declaring the summit open, Governor Adams Oshiomhole said unless there was a complete shift on FG’s inconsistency policy on agriculture, all that is said will amount to mere rhetoric.
He said for his administration to accomplish the goal it set for itself as regards agriculture, farmers in the state and other genuine investor in agriculture would be offered free land in the state as well as provide basic infrastructure.
Oshiomhole called for continued subsidy on agriculture as a means of protecting farmers in the country, and added that there must be an interventionist policy for the country to meet its agriculture plans in the areas of job creation, food sufficiency and serve as alternatives to oil.
According to him, it is too early to applaud FG agriculture policies because previous good agric policies ended without food on the table. He therefore called for a nationwide protest if need be, to stop the federal government from granting waivers for the importation of vegetable oil, rice importation and other food that could be produced locally.
He told participants that his administration placed emphasis on agriculture as an alternative to oil, for job creation and the need to be the country’s largest food producer, adding that areas of crop concentration for his administration included rubber, rice, cassava, palm produce and cocoa.
“The reason why foreign and local investors hesitate to invest in the country is because of the inconsistencies in policies. How do we sustain this beautiful vision that tomorrow it is not turned-over? We must begin to interrogate our leaders and hold them to the policies they enumerate.
“If we can prohibit the importation of chocolate and with this, we will pass a strong message to the manufacturers if they want Nigerians to eat chocolate, they must set up the company here”, the governor declared.
Oshiomhole while appreciate the minister for all that he has plan to do for Edo State promised to complement the efforts, said “We have opened up a number of rural communities so that our farmers can get their produce to the city centres”.
Another matter that arose as far as adequate food production in Nigeria was concerned was the issue of power generation. In his presentation, chairman of Dansa Foods, Alhaji Sanni Dangote, urged the FG to provide adequate power if its slogan on paradigm shift must work. He said there were local investors who have the capacity to turn things around in agriculture, but they were being hindered by lack of power.
He advocated that government should tighten its noose on the ban importation of chickens and raised the alarm that foreign farmers are lobbying for a lift in the ban on chicken importation because they have good storage facilities due to steady power supply. “It is very important that we keep the ban on chicken importation strong”, he stressed.
Adequate funding of the sector was another critical issue raised by Dangote. He however assured that farmers in Nigeria were ready to find the money to operate so long as government was willing to provide the infrastructure and a level playing field for them to operate in
“I just pray to God to help all of us because it is an issue everybody has been talking about for the last 15 years and nobody has been able to act either federal of state. I hope this time there will be a change and there will be a positive result. What we need is action, not talk or summit.”
Nevertheless, he disclosed that his company is partnering with the Edo State Government in apple, pineapple and rice production adding that between N5 billion to N8 billion is expected to be invested in the sector.
UNIDO Representative and Director Regional offices, Dr. Patrick Kormawa, who spoke on ‘Agribusiness option for Edo State’ said Agro-industrialisation must be the centre of any transformation agenda for the agriculture sector in order to achieve meaningful impact on jobs and food security in the country.
He said UNIDO believe that agro-industry and agro-business will play a key role in the prosperity of Nigeria, pointing out that it cannot happen by chance but through investment and sustained political will over the years.
His words: “We need to invest in productivity enhancing technology. States must have strategic commodity to invest in. We need to link agriculture to industry if we want to transform the industry.
“Banks need to increase their knowledge in the agribusiness sector and investment opportunity in the agribusiness. Government must provide necessary infrastructure and conducive environment. Specifically government should create proper infrastructure as well as develop research and development facility that are linked to industry”, he added.
Managing Director Notore Chemical Industries, Mr. Onajite Okoloko, said Nigeria faced a major catastrophe if it cannot create an agricultural hub in Edo State. He said the country should take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Edo State Government if it wants to feed the country.
According to him, “There are six million hectares of arable land, three vegetation belts and 1500 to 3000 millimetres of rainfall. Edo seats on a strategic location of the country where it is a gateway to the East, West and the North. Abundant natural gas for making fertilisers exists here.
“There is access to waterways for exportation of finish product. If we can’t create an agricultural hub in Edo State to begin to contribute to feeding the nation and exporting food products then we are actually at the beginning of a major catastrophe,” he added.
Highlight of the event was the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on access to fertiliser, cassava transformation between Edo State Government and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.
Speaking at the ceremony, Governor Oshiomhole, who signed on behalf of Edo State, expressed delight on the vision of the FG for the agricultural sector. The governor said, “I want to appreciate all that you plan to do for Edo State and we are going to complement your efforts. We are ready to provide land free of charge if it is based on agriculture.
Also speaking, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwurini Adesina, who signed on behalf of the FG, said the central government was poised to use agriculture to drive the economy.
“Nigeria has 8 million hectares of land with only 10 per cent cultivated optimally. About 110 million youths will be in the labour market by 2020,” he said, adding that “we have human capital to turn around the agric sector significantly”.
The minister assured listeners when he said “We must change a lot of things. We must realise that agric is big business and we must professionalise it. The federal government will no longer engage in the procurement and distribution of fertiliser”.
He announced that two integrated industrial rice mills have been approved for Edo State, adding that new fiscal intervention have been put in place by the FG to protect the farmers.