COMING ALIVE

Nigeria 2018 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Chief Audu Ogbeh, Federal Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, on food security, energizing the sector, and diversification of products.

Chief Audu Ogbeh
BIOGRAPHY
Chief Audu Ogbeh began his career of public service as Deputy Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly in 1979. He was then appointed Federal Minister of Communications in 1982 and Minister of Steel Development in 1983. Following this service, he returned to full-time farming until 1998 through his rice mill, 4,000-tree cashew plantation, and poultry farm. He consulted for several state government projects before returning to politics in 1993. After serving as chieftain of the Action Congress of Nigeria, he was appointed the Honorable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. He earned his doctorate in 2002.

How has Nigeria's agricultural sector performed recently?

When the government came to power, there was a severe shortage of staples; therefore, so we looked at grains such as rice, wheat, and millet. After two years, I am pleased to say we are achieving self-sufficiency in rice paddy production, though milling is still a challenge. By March-April 2018, we will have overcome this issue, and there will be absolutely no need for Nigeria to import rice. We will have more than we need, and this will be the same for tubers. In terms of the domestic food supply, we are heading toward self-sufficiency by mid-2018. However, we still do not have enough milk, wheat, egg powder, and certain fruits. We are looking at exports, too, because the oil sector will not sustain Nigeria forever. Every country needs foreign exchange, so Nigeria has to find something else to export other than hydrocarbons. We are talking about enhancing cashew nuts and cocoa, not only for local consumption, but also for exports. Also in the works are sesame seeds, coconut oil, shea butter, and castor oil for products such as cosmetics. We look at policies to export to India where there is demand and exciting opportunities for such products. Nigeria is the world's largest producer of yams and we will enter into the production of cassava chips, as well as industrial starch and ethanol from cassava. We also plan to work on improving our processing and packaging.

The ministry is committed to engaging the youth in agriculture. What has been the public's response to your measures to increase participation in agriculture?

The beauty is that Nigerians are responsive; the number of people returning to agriculture has never been this large. This includes young people, women, civil servants, and the military. If we can mechanize and invite the younger generations into agriculture, the energy hidden in Nigerians that has not been exploited before will come alive. We are excited to tap into this. Nearly every sector of society is heading for the farms now, and it is exciting. Our duty at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is to help clear the land and give them irrigation and approved seeds.

What is the potential of Nigeria's agricultural sector, and what should be done to further unleash it?

The potential is extremely high. Nigeria has about 50 million ha of uncultivated land and massive bodies of water and rivers. We will utilize our dams and lakes to ensure we grow food all-year round. This is one of 2018's investments. Once that happens, we invite the world to come. There is demand from Russia and Europe, and also West and Central Africa is fed by us. In another year or two, the world will hear great things from Nigeria's agriculture sector. We also want to educate Nigerians about the need for a healthier diet. Our children do not have enough milk; they should be having a pint a day for their minds and bodies. Currently, there are too many children with deficiencies in their diet, and therefore, they can never truly reach their full potential. This is one reason why we are entering into cattle breeding and working to improve the milk yield per cow.

What is your outlook for 2018?

We should achieve around 3.5-4% GDP growth by YE2018. It could be more if we solve one problem, which is the cost of credit. If Nigerians have access to reasonable credit, we can double that growth rate. We are improving transportation and building railways, and once the cost of transportation drops and good gets cheaper, the population will be happier. There will be more jobs and a lower crime rate. Once we achieve this, society will begin to benefit and become a much happier and less violent society than it is today. We are heading for better times.