You have gone to the various exhibition stands and seen most of the technologies. What do you make of what you saw tested or on display?
Each year I come here I get more excited because quite frankly, a revolution is taking place here and we are very happy to see it. You saw the mini-tractors, two years ago they developed the tri-cycle and told me they were going to do the four-wheel drive, and they’ve built it.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the machine they developed for making yam heaps. Now believe me this idea came to me as far back as 1980 when I was in the House of Assembly in Benue as Deputy Speaker. I went to see the then governor, Mr Aper Aku, and I said to him, that with the UPE (Universal Primary Education) I fear the day is coming when you won’t find young men in the villages willing to make yam heaps with the hoe as they do now because it would be too tedious and too unattractive.
Then, here we are, we spoke to them (NCAM), I didn’t know that local engineers could design this, I thought we would find an engineering firm somewhere and the idea has lingers on. But a coup came and I left Benue for Lagos as minister.
Now I’m a happy man to see this machine for making yam heaps because without that, in another 5-6 years, yams would simply begin to disappear. The young boys are no longer going to be ready to use the hoe and cutlass, and even if they do use the hoe, they can’t produce 400 heaps in a day like this machine would does; then this four-wheel-drive tractor, which cost about N3 million, maybe cheaper when they are mass produced. This is what most farmers need because the average farmer doesn’t need a-N14 million tractor and if we can make them here, with the spares parts are available, then this is it, that is how industrialisation takes place.
So, I am excited there’s an array of things on display, the value addition and the research institutes, and Kano State for instance shares the enthusiasm, with the serving senator and founder of the Agric Foundation, they’ve done this now for 10 years.
This is what you see in every other country, there’s always an agric show in UK, US, China wherever and I’m happy I’ve achieved that. The revolution has started.
We always express appreciation to Mr President because when he came we started work together and he said look, drive this thing because we have no choice in the matter especially now that oil and gas are going. If we concentrate on agric, we cannot complain.
What do you think has happened to Nigerian farmers so far since you came in?
A lot, the big news is we are very happy with Nigerians. We are very happy with farmers and on behalf of Mr President I can tell you that nothing has given us more joy than what we are seeing now because agriculture is leading the charge in our recovery from recession and the growth of our economy. From the conversations I had with some people from the British High Commission, and Britain, they said their market is waiting for our supplies, why aren’t you here? The market is £30 billion which is a challenge we need to take up.
There are people who still worry that the problem in the agric sector also has to do with lack of price control mechanism. Is there something you are doing to ensure that farmers have price security; that after production they can sell profitably?
It is absolutely necessary to have it but if you hasten that, you get into trouble. There must be a certain saturation of the market before government says this is the minimum price a farmer can get and if the market can’t take it, government would take it and store it; or even sometimes take it and use it for something else. That is what they do in the US. They buy milk and pour it into the rivers; they do the same in Europe. The reason is to keep the milk farmer happy because if you abandon him to the fluctuations and vagaries of the market, he will abandon milk production. We are getting close to that now with rice paddy. We are coming down from N150,000 per tonne to N110,000.
The farmers are happy, the millers are happy and they are off-taking, the price of 50kg bag of rice is already N13,500 down from N17,000. WACOT and all the other millers after a meeting in my office with the farmers we’ve agreed that the price of a 50kg of rice equals to N13,500 which is a sharp drop from N17,000 it was four months ago, we are getting close.
One of the major challenges to research institutes is that funds for researches are tied to capital projects, how do you intend to solve that?
Yes, we are trying to dislodge that now because research is something else and the grants to research institutes go straight from the Ministry of Finance to the research institutes but the money is far too small for research.
We are designing a new method. I had a chat with the Minister of Finance and talking with Mr President next week and the Vice President. We have to find the fund to drive research because our researchers have shown that they have capacity.
AFAN is saying that maize farmers are now having problems because the price of maize has fallen too sharply and they might not produce next year. What is your response?
The middlemen caused the problem, they bought a lot of maize and stored in their warehouses and they are asking for N130,000 per tonne. The poultry industry is dying already, they complained and there was no way we could force anybody to bring down the price then I think some people went and imported maize.
By law, maize importation I think is not yet banned, so I think some people brought in maize. It is not banned, but the influx of foreign maize crashed the local price.
But we are coming together now to arrive at arrangement where we have to check the volume of maize coming from outside if any and the only feasible way of handling it is to encourage local farmers to grow maize more and have better yields per hectare than they do currently.
We don’t even know how to plant maize here yet, I was in Spain few weeks ago, I’ve been to Nebraska and Iowa and Holland, and they plant their maize on the ridges 6 inches apart. The farmer here does it 1 meter apart, it’s the same thing we have in cotton, whereas in Pakistan the farmer is doing 5 tonnes of cotton per hectare, the local farmer does 300kg because he doesn’t know how to plant.
So the extension officers are going out, we should not import maize, we should grow it, there is land. Improved seeds are lacking, farmer education is poor and credit to agriculture is still very high, so the reforms in the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) are going to change that.
We are targeting 5% interest, I hope I can get the support of the society because the simple logic is: if we can’t achieve anything else let’s feed well.
What are your plans for dry season rice production, which is almost here?
Irrigation. We are trying to put some funds together now, more canals, more dams and earth dams, larger dams, working hand in hand with the Ministry of Water Resources to finish all the dam projects abandoned in the last regime.
Government is owing large amount of money to those who were given contracts. The minister said almost N86 billion is to be paid them to finish what they are doing. But we have to do more; set up more facilities for irrigation because a drought can hit us anytime. It actually happened this year in Bauchi.
So food production cannot be just seasonal – fed by rain – it must be all year round and we are going to start work on that right after this rainy season – construction of lakes and dams all over.
Do we have a functional strategic grain reserve system?
We have made three silos with capacity of 2 million tonnes of grain but we have concessioned them because if I were to buy grains, my entire ministry’s budget can’t buy enough.