President Muhammadu Buhari has said that Nigeria cannot continue to spend huge sums on the importation of foods that farmers in the country can produce. The President stated this on Tuesday in Birnin Kebbi while inaugurating the 2015/16 Anchor Borrowers’ Dry Season Rice Planting Programme sponsored by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Buhari observed that the importance of agriculture in the economy of the country could not be overemphasised as it provided the foundation on which the country’s economy was built prior to the discovery of oil.
“The importance of agriculture in the economy cannot be over emphasised. Prior to the advent of oil, our country survived on agricultural production with huge economic potentials from our palm oil, groundnuts, cotton, and rubber plantations.
“During this period, the economies of our sub-region were built on agricultural activities and our gross domestic product grew steadily. “The discovery of oil was expected to compliment our agricultural productivity, but we allowed oil to almost completely replace it.
“The current trend in the international oil market has brought to the fore the urgent need to diversify both the productive and revenue bases of our economy and conserve our foreign reserve by limiting our appetite for importation of goods that we can easily produce locally.’’
He stressed the need for the urgent diversification of the nation’s economy in view of the dwindling revenue from oil occasioned by the fall in oil prices in the international market.
“This means there are limited resources available to government at all levels and hence economic diversification is no longer an option for us as a nation; it is the only way to reclaim economic momentum and the drive to prosperity “One way to do this is to go back to land and develop our agricultural production.’’
Buhari said that CBN’s anchor borrowers’ programme could create millions of jobs for the youth across the country. The President expressed optimism that the scheme would uplift the quality of life of peasants and small holder farmers in the country.
In his remarks, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe, commended his immediate predecessor, Prof, Akinwunmi Adesina, for the innovations he introduced into the nation’s agricultural system and promised to deepen the innovation.
Ogbe, however, lamented that in spite of the good intentions of the former minister, “corruption still crept into agriculture under him. “People supplied sharp sands as fertilizer while fake seeds were sold to farmers. There were companies with no traceable addresses.”
According to him, as a result of the sharp practices, many struggling farmers lost their investments. He, therefore, warned that the present administration would not give room for situations like that. He said, “Under this administration these will never happen again. Security agencies will now be used to check fraudsters. We will no longer allow the elite to play pranks on our farmers.’’
The minister said that Buhari was very concerned about the incessant conflicts between farmers and grazers, saying that a new approach to grazing would be introduced. Also speaking at the event, CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, said that the apex bank was concerned about the high foreign exchange spent on the importation of food items that could be produced in Nigeria.
He said that it was the concern that informed the decision of the bank to set aside N40 billion from the N220 billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund for farmers at a single-digit interest rate of 9.0 per cent. According to him, agricultural commodities and food import bill had averaged more than N1trillion in the past two years.