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*Nigeria: NDDC’s Foundation for Food Security
By Ifeatu Agbu
There is no doubt that the Niger Delta region is blessed with natural resources. Apart from oil, the region is also endowed with some of the country’s most fertile land. Ironically, inhabitants of the region are not reaping the fruits of nature’s bounties as much as expected because of years of environmental degradation. Thus, majority of its people are still living and dying in poverty.
Assessing the level of poverty among the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria in 2006, the Central Bank of Nigeria, observed that south-south geopolitical zone is the worst hit by poverty among the three zones in southern part of the country. Before the oil boom era, more than 95 per cent of the people in the region were engaged in agriculture. Since Shell first struck oil in Oloibiri in 1956, unquantifiable oil spills have continued to pollute the water and soil while dangerous gases from gas flares poison the air across the region, destroying the livelihoods of fishermen and farmers. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria's Niger Delta Region showing Port Harcourt
To make matters worse, the Nigerian nation had come to depend almost entirely on crude oil for economic survival. The result, of course, is inadequate investment in the agricultural sector. Indeed, annual production of both cash and staple food crops dropped significantly since oil money came into the economic matrix. For example, although Nigeria was the world’s largest cocoa exporter in 1960, cocoa production has since dropped to a dismal 250,000 Metric Tonnes per annum placing her behind Ghana and Cote d’ Ivoire. Similarly, other cash crops such as rubber, palm produce, cotton and groundnuts, which were major foreign exchange earners before oil, have lost their export appeal.
Recognizing that Nigeria was once able to produce enough food to feed its people, as well as supply raw materials to local industries and still have enough for export, the Federal Government seems poised for a change of course. According to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the production of locally milled rice would increase from 2.21 metric tonnes to 6.4 million metric tonnes annually by 2015. To achieve this, he said that the government would attract 100 large rice millers into the country and form cluster rice farms around the mills. Obviously, the high rate of rice importation gives government officials the jitters, considering the country’s ever growing population. Nigeria is not only the largest consumer of rice in Africa; it also eats more than it produces. One can, therefore, understand the minister’s eagerness to turn things around. He has promised to make agriculture earn for the nation what crude oil does at the moment.
As part of the efforts to make good this promise, Nigeria recently sealed a deal with a US manufacturing firm, for the production of 300,000 tractors with a view to encouraging large-scale farming. The partnership, involving delegates from USAID and the U.S. Bureau for Food Security (BFS), is expected to attract an investment worth 60 million dollars into Nigeria’s agricultural sector. Dr. Adesina said that the ultimate goal was to create employment for our teeming graduates as it is estimated that roughly 4 .5 million youths were entering our already saturated labour market every year. Another country which has shown interest in the development of modern agriculture in Nigeria is Israel. This is a country that is exporting food and earning as much as $714 million yearly, while Nigeria is spending billions of naira on the importation of food. Interestingly, Israel that is reaping huge sums from the exportation of agricultural produce is in the heart of the desert, unlike Nigeria with abundant fertile land. So, the Jewish State owes its success in agriculture to the deployment of modern technology. They have demonstrated in various spheres of life that technology is the key to economic power in the modern world. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria showing some major cities, including the Federal capital (Abuja or FCT)
Last year, the Israeli ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Moshe Ram, said he was happy that Israel was collaborating with Nigeria to return the Niger Delta to a major food-producing zone in the country. He recalled that palm produce used to flourish in the region and expressed happiness that Israeli expertise would help to bring back those days of glory.
In fulfillment of the pledge, the Israeli embassy is collaborating with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to rejuvenate and modernize agricultural practices in the oil-producing region. The NDDC has also entered into partnership with other stakeholders in its efforts to reactivate the agricultural potential of the Niger Delta and empower farmers to reclaim their livelihoods.
The Managing Director of the commission, Dr.Chris Oboh, said it was very necessary that agriculture was revived to make it a major economic activity in the Niger Delta region. He made the pledge at a ceremony to formally welcome 11 trainees from India, who received specialised trainings on mechanised farming and repair of farm equipment. “We are focused on diversifying our local economy in a manner that will drastically reduce our dependence on oil,” Oboh said.
He said the commission would vigorously pursue programmes that would boost agriculture to make it rival the oil sector as a major income earner in the region. Oboh urged the beneficiaries of the training to use their skills and knowledge to further boost the development of agriculture in the region.
The NDDC had been running agricultural training programmes in conjunction with Songhai Delta, a reputable capacity building and youth empowerment centre based in Amupke, Delta State. The scheme aimed at training youths in Niger Delta in various aspects of agriculture, took off in January 2008. The NDDC said it has trained over 6,500 youths of the region in various agricultural practices.
The commission has promised to increase food supply by building rice processing mills across the oil producing states to produce rice in commercial quantity. According to Dr. Godspower Amadi, NDDC’s deputy director, agric and fisheries, “we started commercial rice farming as far back as 2007 with nine pilot farms in the region. Our giant rice processing plant at Elele Alimini in Rivers State will soon start churning out tonnes of high quality rice.”
Today’s farming cannot be anything but science-driven with the requisite technical sophistry. The NDDC is well aware of this fact, hence its contributions to the transition from subsistence farming to modern agricultural practices. Just last year, the interventionist agency donated 27 tractors to the Oil Producers Trade Section (OPTS) group, for delivery to farmer cooperatives in their respective host communities. The OPTS is supported by the major oil companies.
Engineer Anthony Abolarin of Total, who received keys to the tractors on behalf of the OPTS members, described the event as unique and monumental. He said that the handing over of the tractors by the NDDC demonstrates the level of understanding and cooperation between the commission and oil companies.
It is only through this kind of intervention that the oil producing communities and indeed the entire country can be empowered to meaningfully engage in mechanized agriculture that would make Nigeria to become self-surficient in food production. It will also help the nation to reduce its ever-rising food import bills, which according to the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Dr. Dalhatu Tafida, stands at about 10 billion dollars annually.
This worrying situation is stirring some state governments into action. The Rivers State government is one of those that have taken up the challenge. According to the Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, agriculture would be made the mainstay of the state economy in no distant time. Thus, the government has put pen to paper with an Israeli-based firm, LR Group Limited for a multi-billion naira 2000-hectare farm in Etche Local Government. Governor Amaechi said the development was part of the efforts by his administration to shift emphasis from oil-dependent economy to an agro-based economy.
The administration of Senator Bukola Saraki and the present government of Abdulfatah Ahmed took Kwara State to a new level of commercial agriculture. Saraki cleared the grounds for agrarian revolution when he invited white Zimbabwean farmers in 2004 to introduce modern technology to farming in the state.
Apparently, the message is beginning to sink in. Technology is the key to the agricultural revolution needed to lift Nigeria from the status of a mono-cultural economy.
Mr. Ifeatu Agbu ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
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