BY Babajide Komolafe & Emmanuel Elebeke
*Launches Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme…
ABUJA—President Goodluck Jonathan, Tuesday, promised to provide very low interest loans to farmers. He made the promise while declaring open the 19th Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja, where he also launched the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme, YEAP, designed to attract more youths into the agricultural sector.
He said providing cheaper loans to farmers was part of strategies to achieve the transformation agenda of his administration in the agricultural sector.
The President said: “A critical success factor to the transformation agenda for the agricultural sector is access to affordable finance for farmers and agribusinesses.
“Government will continue to develop innovative financing mechanisms to make agricultural credit more affordable.
“A team headed by the Finance Minister is working on how government can link up with the private sector and the Central Bank to make sure that farmers get loans at very low interest rates.”
Commenting on YEAP, President Jonathan said: “Agriculture as a business holds a bright future for our country, especially for the youths. Unemployment among our youths is one of the biggest challenges.
“The time has come to create jobs and create a new foundation for Nigeria’s economic growth. There is need to get younger farmers, especially young graduates and young school leavers to take up agriculture as a business.
“I am excited that a lot of young people now see agriculture as a viable business opportunity. In order to encourage young people and create another cadre of young dynamic and entrepreneurial commercial farmers and agro businesses, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has developed the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme.
“Over the next five years this programme will see the emergence of young graduates and school leavers across the six geo-political zones into commercial farming and agribusiness.
“They will be called Nagropreneurs. These Nagropreneurs, through their businesses, will create jobs for hundreds of thousands of Nigerian youths.
“Let me use this opportunity to call on all young people to take advantage of this opportunity.
“We are paying the huge prize for the predominant focus on our oil-led economy to the abandonment of agriculture. Our population is too big to depend on other nations for food importation.
“This is why we must not fail in this course. Our target is to be food sufficient. By 2015, we intend to achieve self-sufficiency in rice production.
Agro targets, population explosion
“We have ended corruption in fertilizer distribution through private sector, who now sell directly to farmers. We have established new plants for cassava processing across the country.
“Our target is not only to be a major producer of cassava processed products but a major exporter to the rest of the world.
“Our national revolution plan is further intended to add value to our priorities and also to our agro processed products. We are working to reduce costs in production of agro products.”
The President, who identified power as an indispensable factor in driving the economy, said that efforts were being made to reposition the power sector and assured that the ongoing deregulation of the sector will be completed before end of the year.
“You cannot talk about agriculture without power, finance, fertilizer, education and gas. We are using this summit as a fulcrum to dialogue on critical issues about the economy.
“The theme is most apt, especially this time the administration is determined to unlock the challenge of food sufficiency.”
He debunked the claim that Nigeria is over populated, saying that the nation’s population will not explode as believed in some quarters.
According to Jonathan, the administration is working hard to meet the challenges of population increase in the country.
He added that a 30-year strategic plan has been unfolded by the administration to ensure security of critical infrastructure across the country.
This, he said, was part of ongoing efforts to guarantee steady growth and sustainability of ongoing transformation of the economy.
Meanwhile, President of African Development Bank, AfDB, Dr. Donald Kaberuka, has called for more state support for farmers in the country.
Speaking during the Presidential Dialogue session of the summit, Kaberuka commended the ongoing reforms in nation’s agricultural sector.
He said to expedite the reforms, it was necessary to provide state support for farmers.
The ADB boss s aid: “When the President asked me to join the Presidential Advisory Council on Agriculture, I wanted to turn it down, because I don’t participate in such advisory councils.
“There are 54 African countries, and I cannot be on the adversary council of all of them. But I concluded that this one is very important. It is not only because of Nigeria’s demographic importance, but because if we can succeed here, we can succeed elsewhere.
“I have been around now for eight years in my job. I have been to oil exporting countries in Africa where you see plenty of oil, plenty of poverty, and plenty of opportunities.
“Now that the leadership here is determined to do something about it, I think we must rally behind Mr. President.
“The science of making agriculture work is well known. It is not rocket science. The policy framework that we need is well known, but what we need are people that recognise that Africa must seize this opportunities of the growing population is the world, not only to feed ourselves but to be part of the agricultural value chain.
“I don’t buy the idea that we should simply promote agriculture to feed ourselves. That is not the point.
“I think we must now seize the opportunities in the global market. So I am exited in what you are doing here, and I support it.
“I am a firm believer in free markets, but when it comes to agriculture, as long as we have an exit structure, it is a correct thing to provide state support to farmers, provided it is targeted, transitory and it has an exit plan.
“And that includes having institutions that are well run, not politically run. Well ran to support the farmers.”
“If that is done, institutions like African Development Bank will rally behind it.”