From Okwe Obi, Abuja
Experts in the agricultural sector have countered claims by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Mahmoud Abubakar, that Nigeria tops chart in cassava, yam, maize, palm oil and rice production globally.
Abubakar, at a maiden edition of the National Agribusiness Stakeholders and Investment Summit in Abuja, added that the country’s agricultural sector accounts for 24.14 % of the Gross Domestic Product.
He said: “it is remarkable that in the past three years Nigeria has taken a leading role globally in cassava, yam, maize, palm oil and rice production.
“We are currently the largest producer of rice in Africa with a production level of over nine million metric tonnes from 2019.
“The Federal Government is investing in the development of additional 10 large scale integrated rice mills across
“Their combined minimum capacity is 320MT per day, which when completed will enhance Nigeria’s self-sufficiency in rice production.”
But the National President of All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Kabir Ibrahim, disagreed with the minister, adding that Nigerians currently complain of high cost of food items, especially yam.
According to him, most regions do not even prioritise the consumption of cassava like the northern part, hence government should focus on making more investment to enable the country attain food sufficiency.
“I will align with him when it comes to cassava. But I do not know about yam, honestly. How can we be the biggest? We are just trying to be self-sufficient in rice.
“We just stopped importation. But they are people who bring it in illegally. It is very costly which also is a factor in supply and demand. If the supply was so much demand would not have made inflation tenable.
“Even yam, I do not think we are the largest producers because even yam tubers are now costly. I am sure you do too. But the question being the largest is not important.
“We are talking about the population of Nigeria of about 200 million finding a lot of trouble feeding the population.
“So many people are complaining now about food prices. We should not be talking about being the best in cassava because in so many region it is not a staple.
“If you take cassava to my village now, the people would only boil or roast it and cannot even make any other thing with it. They only process it in to garri so that they can take it with sugar and groundnut or kulikuli.
“So, let us worry about Nigeria making more investment now to attain good sufficiency. Once insecurity is tackled, we will get there. It is work in progress. If the policy of this government is not somersaulted and the incoming government continues with this policy we will arrive at food security,” he said.
Also, National Coordinator, Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko, parried the claim, noting most Nigerians go to bed hungry because of the high cost of foodstuffs.
According to Onwubiko, the minister should focus more on providing solutions to the lingering impasse between herders and farmers rather than churning out unverifiable claims.
He submitted that the overzealousness of Abubakar to deliver on his mandate appears to be making him to release unrealistic claims.
He said: “With all due respect, the Minister of Agriculture seems to be very overzealous with his job.
“He is actually much more interested in reeling out unverified and unverifiable and non-existent statistics about farming activities in Nigeria than doing his work which is to look at ways and means that farmers all over the country can be protected from attacks from different none-state actors.
“The problem farmers have in a lot of farming communities across the country borders some much on insecurity.
“The minister had not even thought of partnering with relevant government officials at both the national and sub national levels to propose and to implement workable measures to completely eliminate the violence unleashed on farmers, especially by suspected herders.
“And in the Northeast, the farmers have a lot of issues with the Boko Haram terrorists. Even in the South, farmers are not even safe from attacks carried out against them by herders.
“So, I think the minister of agriculture should be interested in promoting agricultural growth by way of sensitising Nigerians on why farmers should not be attacked.
“The implications of the constant violent targeting farmers is that very soon Nigerians will starve because we will not have enough agriculture produce to sustain the large population that we have in Nigeria.
“So, the minister telling us that we are the largest producers of yam or whatever does not tally with the reality on the ground.
“Because a lot of Nigerians do not have the financial wherewithal to be able to feed their families three times a day.
“The cost of foodstuffs in the market has skyrocketed due to the rising state of insecurity all over the country. Some parts of the Northwest: Sokoto, Katsina, Zamfara and so many other places, farmers cannot go to and harvest their crops if they do not pay heavy ransoms or taxes to armed militia or what the government calls armed bandits.
“In Southern Kaduna, which is one of the most agriculturally rich areas in terms of land resources, farmers cannot go to the farmers because they are being consistently attacked by herdsmen.
“Zongo Kataf has been over run by herdsmen. You talk about the issue of lack of capital for farmers to expand their source of farming from mere subsistent farming to a more commercial oriented mechanised farming.
“That is where you have the Central Bank of Nigeria and financial institutions that have credit facilities and grants that are supposed to be paid to farmers to encourage them to get modern tools and to buy fertilizer, are not transparently dispensed.
“A lot of farmers have not benefitted. Those who have benefitted are actually people who are portfolio farmers. The real farmers are in the villages who are not feeling the impact of the various intervention measures.
“We have never heard that they held this general conference they normally do between federal ministry of agriculture and state ministries of agriculture where they come all over the country to synergise. I do not think I have heard about it in the last two to three years.
“There was a time during the administration of Audu Ogbe he told Nigerians that some of the yams that were exported to the US and UK were brought back because they were rotten.
“So, Nigerians lack storage facilities in house agricultural produces. The minister should do more working than talking.”
In addition, the National Chairman, Action Democratic Party (ADP), described the minister’s submission as political and should be received with a pinch of salt.
“The minister’s claim is a political statement. Nigerians are hungry and angry. So, it has not impacted on the people,” he said.