Interview: Audu Ogbeh
What steps can the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) take to increase self-sufficiency in food production?
AUDU OGBEH: Our first duty is to address the continued population growth. We have 200m inhabitants, and in 30 years this will reach 450m. Meanwhile, we have less than 1m sq km of land – a key challenge for a large population. In the past oil and gas revenue left us content, but we misapplied this fortune. Now we need to intensively mechanise our agricultural activities, as well as analyse our soil to determine what fertilisers and crops best suit our resources. Additionally, we need to research high-yield seeds and the effects of climate change.
However, the most important issue is attracting the younger generation to the sector. Many young people would rather not participate in agriculture, but we must convince them that this is an important field, while providing them with the necessary resources, such as credit and land. Greater involvement of the younger population will substantially step up production.
How are production challenges being addressed?
OGBEH: The FMARD is working with the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, and we have established a list of high-priority roads to access agriculturally important areas. Also, the upcoming railway system will be of great use to the sector. Furthermore, we have formed a strong partnership with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to plan irrigation works to connect underutilised resources with farmers.
Which measures could mitigate the financing gap?
OGBEH: Access to foreign exchange and credit are both important for agriculture, because we have to import machinery, technology and chemicals. We are talking to partners across the globe about how to use technologies and research to increase efficiency.
While exchange rates are an issue, loans from partners such as the African Development Bank allow us to continue implementing projects. Nigeria has high interest rates, and we are working to bring these in line with global norms to attract investment and market participation. Lastly, we strongly encourage farmers to work in cooperatives and clusters. If farmers work together, they can use common resources and share the costs of machinery. Also, banks are more likely to lend to clusters, as they are easier to monitor.
What key reforms came from Agricultural Inputs Mechanisation and Management Services (AIMMS)?
OGBEH: The AIMMS initiative has replaced previous, ineffective schemes. Every local government should have at least three agricultural input distributors, which are in constant contact with the FMARD. These distributors must receive certifications, which serve to strengthen trust within the agricultural sector, as they facilitate the tracking of distributors and the prosecution of fraud. Subsidies and machines are shared through these distributors to be passed on to farmers. In turn, the farmers regularly inform the FMARD on the performance of the distributors, and if we encounter abuse, we will revoke our partnership. A lack of traceability and accountability has been a fixture of the agriculture sector and the economy as a whole for too long. AIMMS establishes a system of oversight and control that will significantly diminish fraud and abuse. In addition, we are launching an awareness campaign to inform people and get them engaged.
How are agricultural exports being developed?
OGBEH: The world is importing agricultural products from Africa and especially from us. For instance, we export fruits to Europe, sesame to China and goat meat to Gulf countries. This presents a lot of opportunities, but we have to ensure that our products meet international standards so we can export everywhere. Our crops need to penetrate foreign markets to lay the groundwork for the growing global export market.
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