Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri, has posited that Agriculture and agribusiness remained the only sure way of getting out of the recent economic recession, warning of imminent danger if Nigerians refused to embrace farming.
Lokpobiri, who made this known at a town hall meeting with stakeholders in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, said Nigeria spends about $22billion a year on importation of food into the country.
The minister, who before the meeting visited many farms in the state as part of efforts to encourage them and get first hand information on the level of preparedness to access the CBN/Bank of Agriculture loan facility, said the development had led, to the astronomical rise in, prices of rice and other products.
“We were told that our population will be 450 million by the year 2050, 34 years from now. That is, our population will be three times this number and that means that if we cannot feed ourselves now, how do we feed ourselves in the next 34years? We have to start today, not just in production but upon the entire food value chain.
“Price of rice was maybe N12, 000 some months ago, but it is now about N26,000, and if we don’t start producing, by December, it could be N40,000.
“Rice matures in three months. So, this is a wake up call for Bayelsa people to take the four farms we have seriously. The Federal Government has four farms in the state in our records.
“The average land you see in Bayelsa can grow rice, so the colonial masters were not wrong in their assessment when they said Niger Delta could feed not only Nigerians but also the entire West Africa sub-region.
“Unfortunately, agriculture till today is not a priority of the Niger Delta as far as the state governments are concerned because of oil.”
He said the states in the Niger Delta were yet to give priority to agriculture the way the North-West states such as Kebbi, Jigawa, Kano as well as other states like Lagos, Ebonyi, Anambra, prioritised it.
He said Anambra State for instance, is not owing salaries despite the fact that it does not have oil but raking in money by merely exporting vegetables.
The minister, who decried the destruction of the region’s resources by militants, said agriculture is one sure way of discouraging militancy.
Lokpobiri said: “this is also an opportunity to tell our people that the most important resources to any man is land and water resources. By the time you are blowing up pipelines, you are actually damaging the water resources. Today, people say it will take 20 years to clean up Ogoni, and we are blowing up our pipelines. We are the people suffering from our own decision, from our own wrong actions. So, the time has come for change from blowing up pipelines as a way of drawing attention to constructive engagement.”
He said that there is no sector in the Nigerian economy that is as profitable as agriculture, adding that Kebbi State under the CBN anchored grower scheme, the rice farmers were given N7.5billion loan and within three months, they made N69billion and paid back their loans effortlessly.
The Chief Executive Officer, Achievers Farms Limited, Dr. Jonathan Omu, said access to capital remained a critical problem confronting farmers in the country.
He said the promises by banks such as Bank of the Industry and Bank of Agriculture, were not novel, saying that farmers in Bayelsa had been receiving such promises without any action.
Also speaking, the President, Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide, Udengs Eradiri, said agriculture remained the sure way of talking Nigeria out of the security and economic challenges confronting her.
He said for the government to be able to woo people to agriculture, the farmers should be given adequate incentives, insisting that the real farmers, not portfolio farmers, should be empowered with processing and storage facilities to give value to their produce.
He urged Bayelsans to key into agriculture to enable them benefit from the various incentives from the Ministry of Agriculture.