Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Akinwunmi Adesina, says producing healthy food and creating wealth for Nigerians remain his top priority, irrespective of activities of those bent on importing food, as poverty is not an industry that should be allowed to grow.
The Forbes Africa Person of the Year 2013, made this declaration on Channels Television on Monday, where he was the guest of Sunrise Daily to discuss developments in Nigeria’s Agriculture sector.
He took off by defending a circular released by his ministry on October 29, 2013, which announced a restructuring of the fishing industry in Nigeria but which had been misconstrued to be a total clampdown on the importation of fish in Nigeria.
He said that he did not think Nigeria has a business importing a lot of fish, let alone spending 127billion Naira doing so. He explained that the decision was aimed at making sure that Nigeria harnessed its potentials, owing to the abundance of water in the country.
The Minister also described the discovery of a lot of fishy business in the fish importation sector, claiming that the bad practices ware killing the local industry and sending the local fishermen into extinction.
He revealed that some of the major players in the old system of fish importing have tried to fight the reform by trying to create scarcity and force the Government to rescind its decision but he would not allow it. He said, “Poverty is not an industry, we are not going to grow it”.
He, however, clarified that the ministry did not ban the import of fish but only decided to start regulating it, having been the only country that was not doing that.
He said that the main idea was to develop and grow the industry within, explaining that aquaculture is a large industry for Nigeria by its massive water which goes beyond just fishing. He added that Nigeria should be a net exporter of many things as God has blessed the country with the natural endowment in land and water.
Speaking on the trolling industry generally, he said that there was a lot of illegal fishing in the country’s territorial waters. He made reference to the recent arrest of illegal Asian fishermen by the Nigerian Navy during the week as proof of how much the country was losing to illegal activities.
Mr Adesina also alleged that Nigeria’s abandonment of the fishing industry had given chance to the conversion of fishing terminal to serve irrelevant purposes like storing petroleum products. He wondered how things could have degenerated into such situation.
The environmental issues also came to the fore as the Sunrise team emphasized the issue of the cleanliness of Nigeria’s waters. He, however, said that the situation in this area is not as bad as it seemed, owing to the several moves being made by the Federal Government through his ministry to clean up the waters, including dredging the inland waters.
He gave an assurance that all abandoned fishing terminals across the country would be revived. Revealing that President Jonathan had given him the freehand to execute the reforms found paramount to the growth of the industry, Adesina said, “The days of abandoning the fishing industry is over.”
The Minister brought focus to the sensitivity of his reforms to the grassroots. With particular emphasis on the women in fishing communities who are into the business, he spoke about the plan to get financing to build cold rooms and ensure that they provide common services to the local trollers to protect them from being dependent on importers.
“Everything Agriculture in Nigeria is private sector driven today, Government is out of it. The role of Government is simple, their role is to develop good policies, regulations and incentives”, he said.
Adesina is not taking the security of Nigerian waters for granted. Piracy to him is a major factor, smuggling is also another issue which is being perpetrated with connivance with external bodies and the Ministry, according to the Minister, has been working with the Navy and has also established partnership with Interpol to sanitize the system.
He admitted that there is no way any system in the world can have a 100% loyal adherence to reform measures but he believes that there are other ways to also support the security measure being taken, including reducing the cost of doing the business legitimately and therefore making the legal route more attractive.
He insisted that the ministry would not compromise on its decision not to tolerate the rot in the fishing sector.
Rice Tariff Policy
Despite a new rice tariff policy, Nigeria still has a large volume of imported rice being sold in its markets. Mr Adesina said that in this regard, “Some of our neighbours are not cooperating with us when it comes to the issue of fiscal policy”, as there were a lot of noncompliance at the Seme Border. However, there were still plans for a reviewed rice tariff policy.
He also gave detailed explanation of how he intends to increase Nigeria’s local wheat production, cultivating a new variety of the crop to reach a production of 1.8 million metric tons over the next 3 years, a figure that shows the capacity to end Nigeria’s current importation of 4million metric tons of wheat which costs 5billion dollars a year.
This system, he said is being adopted on other crops, including rice.
He allayed fears that Nigerian farmers were being made to grow genetically modified seeds, but that the system was to go for enhanced seeds based on conventional technology. This was in response to a question raised by a social media follower of Channels TV.
He, however, said that this was not to mean that bio-technology was not going to be adopted where deemed necessary.
There are said to be allegations that the Agriculture Minister has not paid enough attention to the small scale farmers in Nigeria.
“That is not true” he said. Explaining that there are different categories of farmers based on their size and roles in the sector, he said that what they had done was to optimise across all the different categories.
He cited the President’s approval of the distribution of high yielding cocoa seeds and other crops for small scale farmers who are already experiencing turnarounds in their businesses across the country.
He further explained the importance of large scale farmers to the sector, emphasizing how the policies he introduced have helped raise high investments in the sector, particularly with Nigerian Businessman, Aliko Dangote announcing at the World Economic Summit earlier in the year that he had put about 300million Naira into rice growing and milling in Nigeria, an investment he admitted he never imagined he would find reasonable but for the reforms in the sector.
Mr Adesina is conscious of areas where he had been most criticized, which is on his Growth Enhancement Support Scheme, which has been berated for focusing on smaller farmers. He equated the concept of his execution of the reform to the pyramid structure in which the bottom is larger.
He said that there were more people at the bottom and this justifies his decision to start from the bottom, as this was surer guarantee of making impact on the sector.