On Saturday 17-June-2017, the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh held a first ever interactive chat session with young people in Abuja, the farm tour and chat was a first of its kind where questions from social media was also relayed to the Minister.
At the chat he noted that the average age for farmers in Nigeria is 65 and they would not be around in 33 years when Nigeria’s population is estimated to be 450 million people, “how do we feed 450 million people and still export some of it?” He asked.
“If you have a piece of land, go into plantations such as banana, cashew nuts, coconut, plantain, sesame seeds, gum Arabic among other crops”, he stated, while encouraging the youth demography to go into farming as the Ministry is doing all it can to make farming very lucrative.
He charged the youths to be free to ask anything, express their opinions and anxiety during the chat session.
Questions were raised in regards to the high interest rates, Ogbeh noted that the ministry is working to fix the problem by getting a CBN licence that allows bank of Agriculture to operate also as a commercial program and not exclusively as development bank with branches in all local governments.
The estimation on the worth of deposits according to him would be 300 billion naira before sourcing for funds from World Bank and African development bank with interest rate pegged between 5-7%.
On the question of Certification for export, he enumerated the challenges but expressed his delight in regards to the success of yam export, “On the 16th June 2017, 40 container loads of yams landed in the US, the second load of yam is expected to land in the UK on the 29th of June” he disclosed.
On the question of rice price, Ogbeh stated that the first solution is to bring down the percentage of borrowing and make land open for youths, according to him there is a program for clearing land for the youths in the community with tractors.
On the question of fertilizer, Ogbeh noted that for 40 years the common practise is to use NPK (Nitrogen Potassium and phosphate) in an equal mix of 15-15-15 which was wrong because no two soils were exactly the same, “so the decision the ministry took was to increase or decrease the natural ingredients in the soil and add what is lacking and diminish what is in excess”.
Ogbeh explained the measures taken by the ministry to use lime stone to mop up the soil acidity in Abia Imo, Ebonyi and Akwa Ibom State, he disclosed that in two years the yields have gone up from 2 tonnes to 5-7 and a half tonnes.
To tackle the clash between Farmers and Herdsmen, the Minister disclosed that 3000 Agro rangers who will protect the farms and investment, are currently being trained by the Army.
He further disclosed that 10,000 extension workers are currently being trained under the N-power programme of the Federal Government to support farmers to maximize yields.
On Rice, the Minister disclosed that about 200 rice mills would be distributed to farmers next week and maintained that the Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprise “LIFE” of his administration would create an atmosphere for food processing mills to be established in rural areas to create wealth and jobs for the rural women and youths.
Ogbeh disclosed that there is a budgetary provision in the year 2017 for the building of dams and lakes in order to have an all year round planting season and harvests and stated that the ministry has not endorsed the genetically modified organisms (GMO) but instead the ministry is adopting the use of hybrid seeds.
On the question of why the price was high, he explained that in 2016 price of diesel went up to nearly 280 naira per litre, and farmers have to buy diesel to run tractors, do irrigation, coupled with naira devaluation and no threshers and mini harvesters added to the cost of production which went up so much that even price of rice padding – raw rice- went up, but he disclosed that the government working to provide subsidy on rice.
The meeting ended with a tour around a farm where the youths were showed where chicks were hatched, including fish ponds and made in Nigeria tractors.
Kunle Somoye Writes from Abuja