Interview: Audu Innocent Ogbeh
How effective has the e-wallet tool been in boosting the usage of fertiliser?
AUDU INNOCENT OGBEH: It worked very well in the first two years – 2013 and 2014 – and then things got complicated. Invoices started coming in for supplies that were unaccounted for, and some people were taking products and fertilisers across the border to sell in Cameroon. From there, invoices started piling up. We inherited that debt and had to trim a lot of it down to a more manageable size upon realising that some of the claims were fraudulent. In principle it was a fantastic idea, but in practice there were many obstacles. It may come to an end once the Bank of Agriculture is reformed and interest rates remain steadily below 7%. Once we get there, then we can diminish subsidies, especially now that we have a blended fertiliser that will reduce costs for farmers.
By the end of 2017 we should have reduced the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme to the barest minimum. By then, we will have an extension office in every local government. We will also have vendors in market places where scientists can check the quality of chemicals and fertilisers.
What additional steps have been taken to reduce food imports, and where do you see the biggest potential for growth in exports?
OGBEH: We import a lot because historically agricultural production has been very low and has not been given the right amount of attention from the relevant actors. However, the current crisis is the opportunity we have been waiting for. Rice, for instance, is a huge crop. We consume 7m tonnes per year, and spend an average of $5m a day importing it. We are doing a lot with wheat; however, we are not growing sufficient amounts of maize due to disease. The poultry industry is also underperforming and in need of investment. We are working on the issues, but they still pose significant challenges. Once we stabilise them in the next two years we hope to begin targeting the export market with cashews, cocoa, cassava products, ginger and sesame seeds.
We currently have ongoing talks with India – a market of more than a billion people that is worth over $100m a year – to trade yams as well as cotton products once again. At the same time, there is a great appetite for maize in Africa. We currently sell to West, North and Central Africa, and recently we had requests from Namibia and countries from Southern and Central Africa for the crop. There is huge potential to grow our export line here.
What is the government doing to further support post-harvest infrastructure?
OGBEH: Running the rural routes to make sure farmers can get their products out is the first step in the right direction. In addition, semi-processing in close proximity to the farms, and the use of appropriate machines for processing is absolutely necessary. Packaging using jute bags, not polypropylene, is another measure we are looking at implementing. Some of these measures are already being taken to preserve product quality and make sure that what we have is suitable for international export.
What groundwork is being laid to introduce staple crop processing zones (SCPZs)?
OGBEH: We have not started constructing SCPZs yet, as we are currently sorting out the initial difficulties in implementing the project. We are planning on decentralising the development zone in Kogi and expanding it to five or six states depending on the kind of crops we need to produce in those specific areas. This would save us the trouble and cost associated with transporting products all over the country. Additionally, with the help of the World Bank, cocoa, cashew and cassava processing in decentralised agricultural centres in the country is already under way.
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