COULD you give us an update of your centre’s activities aimed at revitalizing agriculture in the country?
Well, the Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Development (CSAD) has been on for quite sometime now especially in the areas where we want to make sure farmers understand what is happening. We live in a society where the distance of the farmers from a centre of activity is too wide. So, the centre was born to bridge that gap.
We want to encourage people to be in the sector and also make sure that the farmers have a market for their produce. Besides policy inconsistency, the major problem militating against the growth of agriculture in the country today is marketing. You have the product but you donâ€™t know exactly where to sell and in agriculture, if you donâ€™t have a ready market for your products, you donâ€™t need to start the business to avoid failure but that has been the plight of most farmers.
So, these are the things we want to address so that our farmers would be relieved of these burden because the success of the sector depends largely on them. But unfortunately, most of our policies donâ€™t incorporate the farmers. So, the centre wants to address the grey areas in our farming system.
For sometimes now we run seminars, bring people together in areas we need to look at and also organize outlets for marketing. So, the farmers are linked to what they are doing. Those who are into plantain farming we have to link them to major markets. The same thing applies to those involved in the production of cassava flower, cassava starch, cassava chips and others. These are some of the things we have been doing from CSAD and in a place like this where advocacy is the key instrument for our service we have decided to match itÂ together with our activities while we are still reaching out to the farmers.
We are also pressing on the government on their behalf because you never can tell the extent in which advocacy can go. So, those are the tools that we are using to actually press home our demands to the government and when we discovered its importance, we started putting the tool of advocacy so strongly.
Thatâ€™s why it resulted to us sponsoring a bill at the National Assembly on the establishment of a National Cassava Development and Industrial Project.
There is no way we can move forward if we donâ€™t have a body that controls and regulates market, export, research, develop such an entity. Why we are so particular and passionate about it is because we know that it is a crop that can actually have great impact on the economy. Seventy percent of our population live on this particular crop meaning, therefore, that if we concentrate on that we would also be impacting positively on that 70 percent.
So, these are the Â Â Â Â Â Â strategies we have Â Â Â Â Â Â adopted as a centre and we have our concentration on cassava, plantain, snails and fish because those are things I practise and preach. I donâ€™t talk about things like piggery because I donâ€™t practise that. I believe in things I do and thatâ€™s why most of my manuals are based on practical experience- the things I experience in the field. That is what makes the difference because agriculture is based on natural occurrences which in most cases we cannot control.
So, with all these arrangements we can begin to focus on things we can do and get the best result out of it until we get to where we are going.
Over the years, reducing wastage in the sector through better preservation and processing has continued to pose a serious challenge. Is there any end in sight?
Well, that is a very challenging question because the solution to the problem we have not actually arrive at. The issue of storage, preservation and processing is our major problem. Like I always tell anybody who cares to listen that our problem may not actually really be in terms of production.
I was in Thailand, January this year, and at that forum they said Nigeria claimed to be the largest producer of cassava worldwide even when we donâ€™t have the facts. But as small as that production is in Thailand, they can manage their product into processing which made them today the largest exporter of cassava, rice and sugar cane products.
They want to control the world on these products because they have an effective management strategy/ facilities to handle processing and storage. That is what we are lacking. There are lots of tomatoes being produced in this country but over 60 percent ofÂ it end up in waste because there is gap in terms of processing. So, it is a major problem hindering the growth of the sector.
I was affected sometimes last year when we produced cassava flour worth two trailers which is about 1200 bags and we couldnâ€™t sell because of the inconsistency of government policy to the market and in less than 60 days the whole two trailers got spoiled because of inefficient storage issue and processing which we couldnâ€™t handle.
That problem cuts across the entire strata of all the crops that we are producing. So, processing has been a major challenge as it entails adding value to the product that has been produced and for you to add value, the needed instrument which are the equipment and machinery must be made available.
The problem has continued to linger partly because we donâ€™t produce these equipment but then those equipment can also be sourced elsewhere in the world because without you processing it, there is no way you can preserve it.
Thatâ€™s why we have seasonal products and after that season you would never have them because there is no facility to actually keep it beyond that seasonal appearance. Now is a season of yams and it is everywhere and it is so abundant that you can get five tubers of yam for N500 but I tell you come December/ January, the same yam that we are buying for five for N500 would become one for N500 because of lack of processing and preservation mechanism. If only we can get that particular link right, then we would be able to get our agriculture right.
Recently, in Dubai, the countryâ€™s minister for Foreign Trade asked me: ‘if Nigeria is the largest producer of yam in the world, why is itÂ that you canâ€™t bring them down here in the United Arab Emirate? What stops us from having yam here because Dubai is a melting point where everybody in the whole world comes in and, therefore, whatever thing one is producing should be found there.’
So, there are things we can learn from other countries. Now that we are clamouring for Vision 2020, if we cannot re-invent an issue, why not copy from what people have done before since there is a success story.
We have the link ofÂ the systematic approach of how people have done it before, so we should be able to follow exactly what is before or modify what has been done for us to arrive at what we are searching for. All our acclaimed largest producer of cassava end up as a waste. After food what next?
For two years some farmers didnâ€™t plant cassava because they felt that the government was not even serious. So, they all relaxed. Right now, a tonne of cassava is sold for 14-16 thousand becauseÂ there is a gap in processing. This is something that if the government put in place the right facilities, running of agricultural programmes can be done by the private sector but there must be a policy andÂ good environment for that to strive . So, we need to haves a processing and financing strategy for the various products that we produce.
For instance, my plantain farm that would be harvested on October, 27 has already been paid for because we donâ€™t have facilities to preserve it, so we have to sell them off as soon as possible to avoid waste. In countries like Dubai, banana fruit last as long as three weeks on a natural atmospheric temperature because it has passed through a process, so the life span is longer. So, those are the things I know that were really challenging but we need the equipment which is the basis of processing as the equipment are currently lacking. Apart from the equipment, the strategy is totally absent.
Will Nigeria as a country aspiring to be one of leading world economies by the year 2020 ever overcome these challenges and become self sufficient in food production as desired?
Vision 2020 is only a vision because it is what we want to be and for every vision you require a strategy to arrive there. Right from day one, our strategy has been very poor. I have in the past written so many articles on food security and vision 2020 illustrating some strategies on how we can arrive there but no one quarter is ready to buy these strategies. There is no way we can actualize vision 2020 and that is the simple truth.
I have a vision that in this country cassava alone can sustain our economy and it has been strategically laid down for people to see. This a country that produces the largest quantity of that product. No other single crop command that kind of percentage in terms of involvement of the population. I buy the largest quantity of cassava chips from Sokoto as dry as the state is and it cuts across the entire strata of the regions. So, if there is a strategy to boost the production and marketing of this crop that can have 70 percent involvement of the people, what do you think would be its impact on the livelihood of the population.
Certainly, it would improve their livelihood and standard of living. Why I am picking out cassava is becauseÂ that it is something that we have been doing for years, so it is not limited to one area alone as every other areas have their experience and the strategies are just there. Lets have two high yielding varieties. Right now in the country, we have more that 12-15 varieties and they donâ€™t have any spread as different varieties are scattered across the country. Even when we have not even finished spreading the existing varieties, the following two years, we develop another one and it would just stay within a period..
We need to harmonize all the varieties, reduce them to two highly yielding varieties and concentrate in spreading these varieties across the country and also ensure that we have a market for it and a strategy to market the product.
The last government came up with that strategy as we sold the idea as members of the Presidential Committee on Cassava Promotion. We believed that if a market is created for that product, people would naturally flow to it because they know that if they produce, they would definitely sell and that is the strategy.
So it is market driven not production driven. The ability of one to produce so much is not a guarantee that he would remain in business but if there is a market so large one would go ahead and produce. That is the approach to agro-business.