Recently, during the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the United States for the United Nations General Assembly, the immediate past President Obama said something to him which was totally amazing. He said the most important ministry in the United States is not the Ministry of Defence. It is the Ministry of Agriculture. That was quite surprising to us because we thought otherwise.
As some of us have always known, the strength of the United States begins primarily with the capacity to feed itself and feed the world. Hunger is a very bad political adviser. In Nigeria, we have plans; we have regrets, but we have the future to face – a future that could be very threatening, a future that could be very bleak, if we don’t work hard to plan for that future now.
As a black race, we have a poor capacity to estimate tomorrow. We tend to live for the moment. We tend to ignore history, or we tend not to anticipate the future. So, the future catches up with us, and then we begin to pursue the departed train on foot. And that creates a more enormous headache for us. Over the last twenty years, we slowly ignored agriculture. We mocked farmers. We felt that agriculture was a terrain of the incapable, the nameless, the poor peasant in the village.
Those peasants have done their bit to feed us; we have never really appreciated their efforts until oil and gas vanished. And now, we are angry because we are hungry. I am particularly excited that I see many young faces as we talk about Feeding the Future. That future is yours. And that future is nearer than we expect. In another 34 years, this country’s population will be close to 500 million. In a world of 9 billion, that will be five per cent of humanity on this real estate called Nigeria.
Ask yourselves, who will feed me then if I don’t make an effort to participate in the programme of feeding all of us? Seventy five per cent of that population would have moved to the cities, leaving a miserable 25 per cent in the villages. They won’t have the capacity to feed themselves, not to talk of the capacity to feed you in the cities. Think about it. Therefore, young people, this is the time! Get involved.
Should yam go extinct?
You will find then that you can’t even buy yams. You know why? Because the poor peasant in the village who makes the yam heaps could have vanished completely. His sons and daughters will be in the cities. The boy is riding ‘okada’ and the girl is looking for all kinds of employment. Who is going to design the plough to make the yam heaps? We’ve got to think ahead.
We eat 7 million tons of rice now. And one million tons will fill 33,304 trailers. If you line them up, they will stretch from Lagos to Benin City. Imagine one million tons times seven is what we consume annually. We depended on Thailand, India and Vietnam to feed us with rice. We depended on other countries to feed us with rice, tomato paste, even for toothpicks at an estimated cost of $18 million per annum. We depend on Brazil for sugar. We depend, even now, on other countries for tomatoes, bell peppers and so on. We import 5 million eggs per day from South Africa. We bring sliced potato from South Africa.
We bring milk and milk products to the tune of $1billion per annum because our cows don’t yield enough milk, one litre per day. And the meat is as good as plastic because the cows walk too much. A walk from Maiduguri to Lagos is a bit of excessive exercise. And, when we spoke of special grasses to feed the cows, they wrote all manner of abuse on internet because people who don’t know about the subject got involved. I keep saying that this is a country where, if you launch a debate on nuclear physics, even carpenters will participate.
Crisis and food challenges
I was very blunt because there are grasses and grasses. And there are special grasses for feeding ruminants. And we are growing them now, because your cows need to be well fed. Your cows need to drink good water to be able to give good milk. The Fulani cow roaming around doesn’t drink enough water. I was on a farm in Holland recently. The farmer told me a cow consumes a hundred litres of water per day. Your cow, if it is lucky, drinks five litres per week of very dirty water. That cow wandering around probably has tuberculosis, a disease it can transfer to human beings. That cow wandering around is a new crisis between herdsmen and farmers. So, those cows need to be confined.
Your farm has grown the grains and there are no roads to move the grains from the villages to the cities because the rural roads are in very bad shapes because local governments have collapsed. We don’t have enough machinery to process foods. We don’t have enough rice mills even now that rice paddy is increasing in new volumes. We are behind schedule in our capacity to mill our rice. We don’t have enough mills to produce cassava starch for the upcoming textile industry.
Rising demand for pulses, growing relevance of youth in agric
We have demand for pulses from India to the tune of $40 billion dollars a year. The Indian Prime Minister was in town recently and we were scheduled to meet. One of the topics for our discussions was on the pulses. We spend $600 million a year importing fish. There is no reason why we can’t grow our fish. The idea is, young Nigerians, let’s get back to the farm. We are not inviting you to do it with hoes and cutlasses. That is out of the questions. We have to find you machinery: tractors, planters, improved weed killers, harvesters, and so on to make it easier for you.
But, one good news is: after carrying out an important soil test across the length and breadth of this country, we have brought up a new formulation of fertiliser that increases your yield on the farm. We need to go a little further, improving on seed quality and irrigation. It should be impossible to fail on the farm except you fail to follow up on our guidance. So, young people, please, take heed. The future we are talking about is here. And that future is yours.
So, 90 per cent of the conflicts you hear of today are driven, not by politics or religions, but by hunger and anger. Fifteen years ago, I gave a warning about boko haram. I didn’t know the name. In Kaduna, I was talking to fellow politicians. And I warned them that I thought there was going to be tension and violence on a scale never known in our history. I was told that I was being too academic, too intellectual. I am not very happy that I have been proved right, but, sometimes we need to listen to warnings. I am not a prophet of any kind; nor indeed a fortune teller. I just tried to reflect a little bit on where we are, where we were and where we are hoping to get to.
Recently, I was at the North Carolina State University. A group of Nigerians has put together a team with the Faculty of Agriculture to come over here and give us some help. We can support them to come and help us train extension officers. Right now we have only one extension officer to about 10,000 farmers. Ethiopia has the largest ratio of extension officer to farmers in Africa. It has four in every village, even more extension workers than China. Their agriculture is growing at 10 per cent. We are starting that programme shortly. We are also planning ten lakes, or earth dams or small water harvesting scheme in every state. The idea is that we must harvest food all year round and not wait for the rainy season.
We should not wait for the rains. We should harvest fresh maize, fresh vegetables all year round. We should produce milk, our own sugar, beef, grow our chickens. We should not wait. We should work. The good or bad news, depending on how you see it, is that we don’t only feed Nigeria. If you go to the Maigateri market in Jigawa, or the Illela market in Sokoto, or the Dawanau market in Kano, or Baga market or Bama Market before the boko haram, you would see that on each day, many trucks carry food from Nigeria, heading for Niger, Chad, Sudan, Mali, even Algeria.
Not too long ago, I was in Kebbi. They were harvesting millet then. The prices have come down low. But the trucks are moving to Niger and up to North-West Africa. We have to store enough quickly now because, by now, there may be no new harvests, and the price of millet will rise. So, we are under pressure, not only from here, but from our neighbours. So, agriculture, really, does pay if it is done right. Spread the good news. The time to grow food is here. And the ministry will do everything it can to give you support. We are obtaining land from the Ministry of Water Resources. For those who are young and want to participate, the news will be advertised shortly. We will tell you where to do it, how to do it and when to start.
If every Nigerian were to consume a thousand naira worth of food per day, multiplied by 200 million; that will be N200 billion a day exchanging hands in food. That should be a bit higher than oil and gas. The future is big. The future can be bright.