The agricultural revolution going on in the country has revealed some causes of the set-back to Nigeria’s agricultural sector. The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, speaks on measures taken by him to revolutionize and address the challenges facing the nation’s agricultural sector in this exclusive interview with TRADE NEWSWIRE (www.tradenewswire.net).
How are you going to ensure that unemployed youth benefit from agriculture?
First, agriculture has the greatest potential than any other sector to create jobs in a way that it is inclusive of the youth, whether in the area of primary production of farm produce or whether they are actually in the business of selling inputs like seeds, fertilizers, processing and adding value to crops or livestock, logistics or transport, whichever, you can create a lot of jobs all across the chain. In fact, from the Agricultural Transformational Agenda in this year only, we estimated that we have created 2.2 million jobs in 2012 alone, and our target was 3.5 million jobs by 2015, so, creating 2.2 million jobs this year is a very significant step for us. We have also protected 1.2 million jobs, those farmers who would not have been able to cultivate that are very poor were provided inputs to be able to do farming. To get the youth into agriculture, we have to see agriculture for what it is, it is a business where they must make money, we are not talking of agriculture as a development activity, we are talking of agriculture as a business whether you are in cassava, rice, cocoa, cotton or oil palm, everything we are doing now is about making agriculture a business. We have changed the mindset in agriculture today; people asked me why is the minister of agriculture wearing bow tie? And I said that we wanted you to know that agriculture is different today is about a business, and the young graduate stands to make a lot of money from agriculture as a business. Now, we have developed a program, and it is called Youth Employment in Agriculture Program, and it is a program where we are targeting 760, 000 young graduates, commercial farmers, we want to change the entire labour composition of the agricultural sector so that we have younger dynamic farmers who can feed us and secure Nigeria’s future and its competitiveness in agriculture. It’s a major structural program that we are doing; it’s going to cost the government N37bn to do, but it’s an investment worth making; we are investing in our youth, and we are also going back to our Universities of Agriculture to teach people about entrepreneurship so that they are not job hunters to enable them to become job creators. We are also going to provide them access to land, mechanization services, and finances. We are going to work very closely with the state government, and I believe that within five years, we would have an elite corps of younger, commercial driven farmers who are graduate in this country that will transform the face of agriculture for what you know.
What measures has government put in place to ensure that food crisis is averted in the country in 2013 as a result of the flood crisis experienced in 2012?
People like to use phrases like looming crisis and food crisis, there should be no basis for it and that is a fact. Yes, we have a flood; the flood was unfortunate for us because it happened in our first year when we are working aggressively, but don’t forget that in this first year, we did achieve the following. We produce a total of 8. 1 million metric tons of food into the domestic food supply. When we started a year ago, we told the nation that we would add 20 million metric tons of food to our domestic food supply by 2015, which means five million metric tons per year, this year, we have done 8.1 million metric tons, that is 70 per cent above the target we set for this year, and that is 41 per cent of the journey to 2015, now if we have not done that when the flood hit Nigeria, if that amount of food was not in the system most of it have been harvested, which created a significant buffer in the system, Nigeria would have been short by 10.2 million metric tons of food, and then you would have had a crisis. So, what I am saying is that by adding the 8.1 million metric tons of food and by doing all the things we did this year, we safe this country from that crisis. We distributed this year for farmers 67 thousands metric tons of seed of hybrid maize which was planted on 3.5 million hectares with a production of 7 million metric tons at a very least, we distributed 30 million stem cuttings of cassava for farmers this year, we distributed 540 metric tons of growing sorghum for farmers which was planted on well over 37 hectares of land, If you check our work on rice, we distributed well over 9,000 metric tons of seeds that was planted all across the rice producing areas in the country, because of all we did, that was why we were able to add much food to our domestic food supply, but you need to understand also that the biggest business in Nigeria is the panic business, it could create a lot of frenzy, when the flood happened , yes the flood happened and you could hear people saying five million, three million hectares was watched away, now if all that land was watched away even the map of Nigeria would have changed, people tell you that 500, 000 cows watched away, I did not see any cow floating on the water, where are the cows? So a lot of people that are rain seekers who want to import food and scuttle the Transformation Agenda of Nigeria to become self-sufficient in food are the ones peddling all kinds of doom stories. Listen, what we did is as follows, I brought in the International Water Management Institute, which is the world-leading research institute on flood and water management; they use accurate sophisticated tools, Remote Sensoring and Satellite Imagery to look at how much area was actually flooded? Not the media story, how much was flooded? How much is the water receding? What can we quickly go back and plan after the water has receded? And the evidence is as follows, the total area that was flooded and inundated was 1.4 million hectares, the total area under which we suffered crop loss was 463, 000 hectares; however, you must have a sense of proportion. The total cultivated area in Nigeria is 40 million hectares, so the total area under which we suffered crop loss has a share of the total area cultivated in Nigeria is only 1.17 per cent, so there is absolutely no way that we can have a food crisis and experience farming, God forbids, you now know that the total amount of production loss that we estimated we had was just roughly 1.2 million metric tons; the question is what are we doing about it? And here is what we have done, first and foremost, we have released from our strategic reserve 40, 000 metric tons of grains for food to all the flood affected states. Secondly, we are providing improved seeds and fertilizers for farmers affected by the flood for free by the federal government. Third, In states where you have flood, remember that not all the areas of the state were flooded, so in the area of the states that were not flooded, we are doubling up the provision of improved seeds and fertilizers and other farm inputs for them so that they can produce more food to compensate for loses in their own state. Finally, other parts of Nigeria that were not even touched by the flood, we are providing supplies of farm inputs, as we speak, we have secured 14,300 metric tons of rice seed, which is going to be planted on 330, 000 hectares of rice land from the Flood Recovery Program as we call it, that is going to give us a production of 880, 000 metric tons. For the dry season itself, we have just flagged up our Rice Dry Season in Sokoto recently; we are going to be cultivating in the dry season on over 300, 000 hectares of rice land; this is different, and it is just for the dry season. The total production of rice we are expecting from the dry season alone is 1.2 million metric tons, when you add that to the 880, 000 metric tons, we are expecting from the Flood Recovery Food Production Intervention which we are running simultaneously right now, the total amount of rice we will produce will be 2.1 million metric tons, that is well above 1.2 million metric tons that we lose. So the plan that Mr. President put in place, which is called the Flood Recovery Food Production Plan is robust, it creates resilience in the system. We will respond to the shock, there is no need for any panic. What we need to understand from all of this is that we must plan better, flood may come, drought may come, but we must have a robust production system.
What are the roles of the state and local governments in this agricultural revolution?
In fact, we are working today with state government in Nigeria in a way that has never happened by the Federal Government of Nigeria. First, I have decentralized the entire Ministry of Agriculture to the states. As we speak, we have 36 state officers and each one of them manned by a full Director, we have six regional offices, with six regional directors of agriculture, they are working, planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating with them. We are partnering them, my job as a minister is to help the state to succeed, and that is what I do. Take, for example, investment in the value chain, you can pick rice, for example; I took Dominion Farms to Taraba state; they are investing in Taraba today $40 million, which is going to be the largest rice farm in Africa with 30, 000 hectares in about 24 months, that is the role of the Federal Government, when you go to Kogi state, we brought in from the Federal, Cargill, the world’s number one manufacturer of starch; we are working with Kogi State to provide them about 20, 000 hectares of land to produce cassava for their starch, that is Federal Government helping the state government. If you go and look at what we are doing with mechanization, since I’ve been here, I have attracted back into this country a company called Agco, they are the largest manufacturer of Massey Ferguson Tractors in the world, that company is now opening up farm mechanization center at the state level, you can see that every single amount we generate is for the state. We have attracted in the last one year that we started our drive, $8bn of private sector commitment to agriculture, and they are going down to the state. Finally, I just want you to know that we rolled out this year a new fertilizer program where we supply fertilizer to farmers with a mobile phone, it is called Electronic Wallets; we are the first in Africa to do that, we provided subsidy for our farmers; we targeted them, no politician and no minister are between them and their fertilizer, and it worked. 97 per cent of the state and local government participated; we reached over 1.2 million farmers within a period of 120 days; all that is done with state governments. Really, you can see that we are transforming the fortunes of the states and working very closely with them.
Are you saying that the strategy of Electronic Wallets adopted by your ministry for the distribution of fertilizer has actually helped to stop the problem of fertilizer round tripping which had for long bedeviled the agricultural sector in Nigeria?
The reason you had round tripping was because the government in the past years was doing the wrong thing. The government was buying fertilizer and distributing it and not more than 11 per cent of farmers got the fertilizers that government bought and supplied because the rich and powerful cornered it, so small farmers don’t get it; it was sold into other African countries; people were supplying sand as fertilizers, the nutrient composition and the quality of the supplied fertilizers then was bad, so the governments for decades had been subsidizing corruption not subsidizing farmers. Within 90 days of this administration, Mr. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan directed that we must solve that problem round tripping of fertilizer, in 90 days that I was a Minister; we destroyed the entire system of 40 years of corruption of fertilizer in this country. Mr. President supported us strongly, and we dismantled it, today in Nigeria; the Federal Government doesn’t buy any fertilizer; it doesn’t distribute any fertilizer, I as a minister, don’t sign any fertilizer contract, and I have said that until my time is over as a minister, I will not assign any fertilizer contract because government is not the user of fertilizer. So, don’t bring fertilizer to the government, go and sell it directly to farmers and this has stopped because the most important thing in round tripping is been able to make sure that the fertilizer gets into the hand of the right people. What we have done was to develop the database of farmers, we know the farmers, we have their biometric information, we target the subsidy amount for them, each famer will get N2, 500 per bag as subsidy, in your mobile phone you will input the retailer, send that information to them, pay the 50 per cent balance because we give only 50 per cent subsidy and you will collect your fertilizer and go home, there is no government or minister in between, you don’t have to call anybody, and it works. Round tripping happened before because government was doing flat subsidy, general price subsidy, which means anybody get the fertilizer. Today, those that get the fertilizers are the targeted farmers who registered that get it on their mobile phones.
What measures are you putting in place to ensure that Nigeria is self-sufficient in rice production before implementing the ban on rice implementation soon as said by you?
We plan to ensure Nigeria is self-sufficient in rice production by 2015 and to do that we have already taken the following measures, firstly; We have increased tariff on brown rice and on finished rice. The reason is we are getting cheap rice that is heavily subsidized from India and Thailand dumped in our market, and it is destroying our own domestic production; we raised the tariff because we must protect our own market. Secondly is that we are introducing a lot of high-quality seeds for rice all across the country. in the last one year that we have started the rice policy, 13 new rice mill has come up in the country all owned by the private sector; they have a total capacity of 240, 000 metric tons, and today you have Umza International Farms in Kano, Ashi Rice Mill in Benue, Miva Rice Mill in Benue; all these are fantastic local rice that is better in quality than any imported rice in the country. For the first time in the country, when you go to super market now, you will see a lot of high quality Nigerian rice in that market, and that is a success. To increase our scale of production, we are importing 100 large scale integrated rice mill that will have a total capacity of 2.1 million metric tons, and we are doing that a again to the private sector, they got money roughly over $1bnbn from the China Exim Bank to finance the acquisition of this mill, so within 18 to 24 months, Nigeria will have in place all these mills and for the first time ever as a country you will have a full milling capacity for all the rice that we currently import as a country, why not, if we raise production, we can be an exporting country.
What do you have to say about cassava bread, as it seems Nigerians have not really embraced it?
When we started cassava bread, as a new product, people are not used to it, but today it’s a different thing because they now love it, yesterday I was with a member of the National Assembly who told me that he ate cassava bread for the first time and took it home to his constituency and in fact, there was a lot of applause in the constituency that they did not realize that there was cassava flour in the bread. That is what I am getting all across the country, as we speak the following companies have started commercializing it, UTC started in February, Food Concept started in April, Park & Shop started in October, and we started training the Master Bakers on how to make cassava bread since October, it is a process, it is not magic you have to go through the whole process, but I can tell you that we are taken all the measures necessary to get cassava bread in every part of this country. In Ekiti state the Master Bakers there have started producing cassava bread, they have also started in Katsina state, and we have the Cassava Bread Development Fund which Mr. President approved that we are going to use to support the Master Bakers so that they can have access to better equipment, enzymes and things they need to be able to make that bread.
What are you doing to ensure that farm produce that turn into waste due to poor transportation and storage system experienced by subsistence farmers is reduced to the barest minimum?
We are doing a number of things, first is that we are working with the private sector to set up processing plants because when you produce, you have to be able to process it quickly that is the way you can reduce your loses. Let me give you an example; we have a company that we attracted into Nigeria, which is called Tyfarms; they buy cassava from farmers in Ososa and process it into Cassava flour, because you have to process cassava within 24 hours, or it will spoil. In Taraba, we have a company there called Batco; they have an equipment which is a mobile cassava processing machine, and it goes around processing cassava for farmers, so in that way; we are reducing loses, check the case of oranges that rot away everyday, today that story has changed; Transcorp has put in place a plant called Tera Agro in Benue state; it is now processing all of their oranges and mangoes, go to Kano, in Kano Nigeria used to produce 65 per cent of tomatoes in West Africa but we lose 45 per cent of it every day, in seeing that, we worked very closely with Dangote Group, they put up their processing plant for potatoes in Kano state and by January or February it would be commissioned, that plant alone will process 2000 metric tons of tomatoes per day, so you can see that a lot is going on in processing and adding value to reduce loses.
Marketing of agricultural produce has always been a challenge, what is your advice, to that effect?
There are four things that we are doing, first, is helping our farmers and processors to package their products better, already fish is actually been exported out of Nigeria in a very nice packaging. Secondly, we are working on creating Agricultural Commodity Exchange. That commodity exchange will make it easier for farmers to market their produce and trade their produce and reduce their farm loses. Third, we are investing in my ministry and in collaboration with the ministry of works in roads and rural roads, this is one of the best things that you can do for farmers to commit them to market. And finally, the most importantly is organizing farmers into commodity associations, because when farmers are together, and they can hawk their produce it will be easier for them. Today we have a number of commodity associations working very well, Cassava Processors Association; Maize Farmers Association; Nigeria Cotton Association these commodity associations are helping farmers to access market.
What are the challenges to agricultural development in Nigeria and how can the challenges be resolved?
I think the most important challenge that is facing the agricultural sector of Nigeria today is financing, because farmers can’t get access to funding at reasonable rates, the interest rates are still very high, I know that a lot of efforts are made by the Central Bank of Nigeria through their facilities to reduce the interest rates, so there is quite a lot of work for us to do. There his commitments from the CBN and also the Ministry of Finance, we need to make sure that farmers, agro firms ,processors, MSMEs that are in the sector have access to single digit interest rates. Two weeks ago, Mr. President said with effect from January 2013 that funds will be provided for agriculture in this country at a single digit interest rate. The Bank of Agriculture will be significantly restructured; I think there are a lot of agricultural financial revolutions going on. With all that is within me and all the energies and faith that i have, i believe that within five to ten years Nigeria will be the largest agricultural power house in Africa, you will see that agriculture will even supersede oil.
‘With all that is within me and all the energies and faith that i have, i believe that within five to ten years Nigeria will be the largest agricultural power house in Africa, you will see that agriculture will even supersede oil.’
‘Within 90 days of this administration, Mr. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan directed that we must solve that problem round tripping of fertilizer, in 90 days that I was a Minister; we destroyed the entire system of 40 years of corruption of fertilizer in this country. Mr. President supported us strongly, and we dismantled it, today in Nigeria; the Federal Government doesn’t buy any fertilizer; it doesn’t distribute any fertilizer, I as a minister, don’t sign any fertilizer contract, and I have said that until my time is over as a minister, I will not assign any fertilizer contract because government is not the user of fertilizer’