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$50bn Africa Food Import: Obasanjo urges Congo to invest in agriculture

By Gabriel Ewepu, Abuja

Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Tuesday, urged the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to invest more in agriculture, particularly cassava, soybean, cowpea, and plantain, which will reduce Africa’s $50 billion annual food import bill.

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Former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo

Obasanjo stated this during the official inauguration of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA, Kalambo Research Station by President Felix Tshisekedi, in Bukavu, Congo, and was named ‘The President Olusegun Obasanjo Research Station’, in honour of the former Nigerian President who also is IITA’s Goodwill Ambassador.

At the inauguration had in attendance the President of the African Development Bank, AfDB, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina; Oyo State Governor, Engr. Seyi Makinde; and the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, among others.

He said, “The first crop to take is cassava. The second crop is soybean because it is very important for human nutrition and livestock. The next is cowpea and lastly plantain. If we invest in these crops, we will be able to reduce the $50 billion that Africa is spending annually on importing food.”

He also recalled that his administration was able to raise cassava production by 20 million tonnes during his eight year-tenure as a result of research that brought about agricultural transformation.

He commended Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, IITA Director General for his leadership, and the institute (IITA) for its excellent research in addressing the problems facing Africa.

The IITA ambassador congratulated President Tshisekedi of Congo for providing the enabling environment and support to IITA to establish the center, stating that he felt deeply honoured to be part of it.

Dr. Sanginga explained that the essence of establishing the research station was in dedication to IITA and its partners on the mission to fight hunger and poverty in Africa, which would contribute towards boosting agricultural productivity in DR Congo and the region.

“The station is a symbol of our dedication and commitment to building the research and development capacity in DR Congo and the Great Lakes,” he said.

He reiterated the importance of research to agricultural transformation and cited the progress made by Nigeria in cassava to the role of research innovations developed by IITA and its partners.

Also speaking at the inauguration was Director for the Central African Region, IITA, Dr Bernard Vanlauwe, who said the lab building was executed and completed in record time using modern methods and materials.

“Indeed, the first stone was placed in October 2017 and the building completed in 18 months. This speed and efficiency symbolize the nature of the activities taking place in the lab, namely the rapid and large-scale production of healthy planting materials of crops of key importance to the DRC as well as the production of bio-fertilizers to ensure the growth and quality of these crops,” Vanlauwe explained.

It will be recalled that for many years, the station in Kalambo operated in project mode but in 2011, the IITA Board of Trustees decided to elevate it to become the focal point of the Institute’s regional hub for natural resource management in the Great Lakes. It now also features a first-class tissue culture lab for the vegetative multiplication of cassava, banana, coffee, yam, and potato.

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