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Saturday, November 22, 2003

Nigeria's ambitious cassava program: $5bn targeted from exports

Nigeria hopes to generate $5 billion in revenue annually, from the export of cassava and related products, President Olusegun Obasanjo has said.

Obasanjo, who spoke yesterday in Abuja at the start of the second Agricultural Summit hosted by the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) said the Federal Government was targeting between seven and 10 per cent sustained growth rate annually in the agricultural sector in order to ensure long-term food security and alleviation of poverty.

The president, who was represented at the occasion by the Minister for Agriculture, Chief Bamidele Dada, said two delegations of the Federal Government led by Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Presidential Adviser on Food Security and Agriculture and the Minister of State of agriculture were in Brazil, Columbia, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries respectively to explore the market opportunities for the export of cassava.

He said the visits proved that there were a lot of prospects to achieve the target as the private sectors in the countries visited expressed interest to buy cassava from Nigeria.

"Right now Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava tubers. We produce about 35 - 40 million metric tones of cassava annually and we have instructions that within the next three years we could increase the production to 150 million metric tones of cassava, "Bamidele later told THISDAY.

He said cassava had become an important product world wide especially in developed countries where it is used for poultry feeds. "If we are able to access the export market to produce cassava pillets, cassava chips of the world market quality, we can start to earn part of this projected amount," Bamidele stated.

He said the visits to Denmark, Sweden, UK and Netherlands revealed that there were tremendous potentials for the use of cassava for industrial starch, livestock feeds, production of ethanol and some derivatives for pharmaceuticals.

"What we need to do is to establish appropriate agro- industries to make use of these cassava raw tubers which we are producing so that we can export these products as import substitutes then we will be able to meet the needs of other African countries as well as European and other developed countries. So, within the next five to 10 years we will start realising these targets," he emphasised.

Bamidele disclosed that during the tour, a number of equipment producers expressed interest to visit Nigeria and partner with the country's entrepreneurs to explore business opportunities in the agricultural sector, especially in the processing of cassava.

Obasanjo said the blue print for agricultural development recently approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) was intended to boost food production and alleviate poverty. He added that the launching of the National Agricultural Development Fund with an initial take-off fund of N10 billion was one of the measures put in place to increase food production.

He said the sector will also benefit from 25 per cent of the Sugar Development levy and one percent of tax accruing to the Federal Government from the sale of petroleum products as well as the dedication of 16 per cent of national capital budget to agriculture as part of the measures to ensure the financing needs of the sector were met.

The president announced that Nigeria had entered into an agreement with China to provide technicians to help the country's farmers. Already, the first batch of the technicians had arrived the country and redeployed to the states to help farmers in the field. He said the last batch of 500 technicians will arrive the country by March next year.

"Agriculture remains a potent tool with which the twin goals of poverty reduction and food security can be achieved in the short term. The sector therefore has been incorporated as a major sector in fulfilling the requirements of the on -going NEPAD initiative," he told the summit attendants drawn from financial institutions, donor agencies, farmers and private investors in the sector.

Speaking on the theme of this year's summit "Competitive Agriculture: The Pathway to Economic Transformation," Chairman of the NESG, Alhaji Mohamed Hayatu-deen, said it was no longer a matter of debate that agriculture and food security were basic factors for the economic transformation of the country.

"We already know from our own history and those of developed economies that the strength, capacity and sustainability of any economy is dependent on the extent of agriculture and food security," the chairman stated. He added that the cycle of economic instability in Nigeria was directly related to what he called the continuous neglect of agriculture.

Odili News.

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