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The Economist: Nigeria 2017. Agriculture

Date: March 17, 2017


Nigeria 2017. Agriculture
The Backbone of a Nation

You could describe the position of Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria as a “hot sear. After all, as he says, the country used to bean “export powerhouse”. The turnaround maywell be one for the history books. Looking back, the lesson is that “even if tomorrow we discover diamonds on a large scale, we must never again rely on one commodity!’ Oil made things too easy: “We gave up on what we knew how to do before. We have to reorganize ourselves and cut down the appetite for importation. It’s rough now but it’s not a time for despair; we are on our wayout of it.”
The demand is over 2 billion dollars a week for imports. The minister is clear and to the point: “The only way is to work hard. There is no magic formula. We don’t print dollar notes.” This aggressive thinking is typical of the bold decisiveness needed: “We are doing 2 million cashew trees a year. I am a cashew farmer myself. We are going on to 5 million cocoa trees per annum. We are going to deal with cassava exports to China and to the rest of the world, cassava starch, cassava chips and ethanol. We are looking seriously at exporting sesame seed and pulses to India. The market is 100 billion dollars and we intend to take a good part of it. We need to teach farmers and show them how to grow these crops to the standardsdemanded bythese countries.”
Backwards integration takes on life through specific actions. “We came out with a soil map of Nigeria early this year and therefore decided to formulate fertilizer according to soils and seed types. The yield has been amazing. From 2 tons of rice per hectare we now have 7.5.” The economy can be no excuse either: “We need over a million tractors. If we don’t make them, we have to buy them” states the minister and adds that “we have just received 110 rice milling machines of different sizes and capacity to be deployed in the next two months.” In a country which may reach 500 million population by 2050, “the response to the call for a return to agriculture has been simply extraordinary.”
“Five years from now there will be no question of Nigeria’s inability to feed herself. Secondly Nigeria will be a major food exporter. In another two years we shall be exporting rice at least to our neighbours. They don’t eat parboiled rice, we shall be exporting white rice. We shall be a major exporter of Cassava products, of cashew nuts, processed, not raw. We will be an exporter, on a large scale of sesame seed, of gum arabic and we shall be back at Not in the league of cocoa producing nations. This time we will be making our own chocolates and cocoa drinks at home. We hope for a tremendous impact.”
The minister is more than welcoming to all. “Whoever wants to invest in Nigerian agriculture, local or foreign, we will actually walk them through what they need to do, right to the farm.” Nigeria is Indeed moving ahead assuredly, in a way best described again by the minister: “Serious structural economic change is happeningquietly. We need to tell the world the other side of the story. We are on our way.”

“We really don’t have too many alternatives. Agriculture will satisfy two objectives. Feed us well and quickly.”

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