With over 80 million hectares of arable land available for cultivation in Nigeria, the country is still struggling to be self-sufficient in food production. CNBC Africa’s Esther Awoniyi caught up with Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture Audu Ogbe and they started by talking about some of the concerns that the latter has about the sector in the country.
In ten years time oil and gas may cease to be the major foreign exchange earner for this country. We have notices from China and India who are the biggest buyers of our crude, and the biggest consumers of fuel. They are saying that their truck and cars will become completely electrical. The Japanese are using water to drive cars.
They are putting a reactor in the car to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen and use the hydrogen as a source of energy and the oxygen probably to power the air conditioning. If all of that is going to happen in ten years. it means that Nigeria has to be on the watch. The Europeans have said the same. If we wake up in ten years to find that there are no more sales of oil and gas what will be our source of foreign exchange? Agriculture. Our target is to take five percent at the very least of the world’s agricultural exports. We can do it.
But it isn’t just about Cocoa. Cocoa is at top of the list, but some of the trees especially in Ondo State are so old that we need to improve on them by grafting and through the use of a new fetiliser called Boron in the NPK, to bring them back alive Cross Rivers and Ondo State are the top producers at the moment but another contender is Cashew nuts. I’m a cashew farmer myself and we have an order from Walmart, for $7 billion annually to produce cashews for them. Then we have shea butter, we have coconuts. Coconuts is very expensive now for both cosmetics and medicinal uses. We have bananas, we have pineapples, ginger, gum arabic, sesame seed, even soy beans! The Chinese are asking for 7 million tonnes of soy beans. These value chains have to be developed and then they’ll begin to to earn us foreign exchange.
When you say they have to be developed does that mean that the process hasn’t started?
The process has started but we need more farmers to go into those sectors because you’ve got to convince the farmers that they’ll make money here which is one of the issues that we have with cotton. Nigerian cotton is in high demand but the yield per hectare is the lowest on the planet. Three hundred kilograms per hectare. In Pakistan they make 5,000 kilograms per hectare because they use genetically modified cotton. Nigerians are very scared about GMO, and the debate goes on more among commentators than sciences really, but we have to resolve that issue. If we do not switch to high breed cotton no farmer will be willing to waste his time harvesting 500 kilograms of cotton per hectare when he can do 7000 tonnes of rice per hectare. He’d rather go to rice.
What have you discovered in terms of how effective the implementation of policies has been so far?
This is very strategic. When we came in, that’s in November 2015, there was a policy on ground called the growth enhancement scheme run by the previous administration and we embraced it. We’re fine tuning it, but we found that the typical Nigerian operator was abusing the system. Some sharp practices got in so now we’re reviewing the system. We’re putting up a one stop shop in every local government.
A branch of the Agricultural Development bank, an extension office where agric trainers can go around the villages and train farmers in the communities and then the aggro dealers supplying tractor services, threshers and seeds. That restructuring is going on now. The GES has had some impact in giving it’s proceeds to farmers so yields have improved but they can improve even more. We are also checking to see the impact of the invasion of Nigeria by our neighbours. They’re purchasing such large volumes of grains in markets in Sokoto, Kebbi, Kano and until the Boko Haram incident a place called Baga Market where trucks, hundreds of trucks come in daily from outside Nigeria loading grains.
Buying our grains?
Yes buying our grains. It’s an informal market but it is so huge that we have to formalise it because we have no clue how much we’re earning in terms of foreign exchange or how much food is going out so we’ve set up offices to monitor our goods. We’re actually doing rather well in grain production by the way. I don’t think any country can match us now, but our population is huge and it’s growing. In fact the Commissioner of Agriculture in the EU was telling me not to long ago that more children are born in Nigeria every day than in the entire European Union. We are heading for 450 million by 2050.
That will be 5% of an estimated population of 9 billion. How to feed that population is something that we are already contending with. If we don’t do anything now, we are going to be caught. 30 years is not far from now. The monitoring is to report how well we are doing and how we should perhaps change our strategies.
The other issue in our ministry is that budgeting has always been rather scattered. You have line budgets like support for youth in Agric, support for women in Agric. Training for trainers in this… But there are no concrete targets that you can point to. There’s nothing that says here’s the number of lakes and reservoirs we’ve created to support dry season farming because irrigation is a better source of water for farming than rainfall. You can’t control the rains.
They some times come too early, or late and when they’re too heavy they wash away the crops, but irrigated agriculture allows you to give the plants exactly what they need especially if you use drip irrigation. Those are the studies that we’re carrying out. We are also going into livestock, artificial insemination to improve our breed of cattle. The Nigerian cow, is the least productive in milk on planet earth. One litre of milk per day, when in East and Central Africa the lowest output from a cow is 15 litres. In Europe it’s between 50 and 60 litres in milk per cow per day because the cows are better looked after.