N1.3tn Spent on Food Imports Worries Fed Govt

By Hammed Shittu

The federal government Thursday raised the alarm that the current Nigeria’s food import bill was exceptionally high with imports consuming about N1.3 trillion in foreign exchange yearly.

This, the government said, had continued to hurt farmers, displacing local production and creating unemployment.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, disclosed this in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, during the commencement of the Cassava Mechanisation and Agro- Processing Project (CAMAP) held at the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation
(NCAM).

According to him, “our food imports are growing at an unsustainable rate of 11 per cent per annum thereby fuelling domestic inflation and increasing poverty.

“We are importing products that we can either produce in abundance like N356 billion worth of rice, N217 billion worth of sugar and N97 billion worth of fish.”

Adesina said, apart from this, “we are also importing products that we can easily find local alternatives, which can equally reduce our import bill of almost N635 billion being spent on wheat production.”

The minister, who was represented at the event by the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Ibukun Odusote, added that: “The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is implementing a cassava transformation plan designed to support President Goodluck Jonathan’s desire to revive the economy and create jobs for millions of
Nigerians.
“As we create opportunities to sustainably reduce our food import bill, cassava is a crop that provides tremendous potential.”

He stressed that: “It is an exceptionally important crop to Nigeria because our annual cassava production is at 40 million metric tonnes but the sad fact is that this accounts for zero per cent of global trade in value added cassava products compared to countries like Thailand that produce only 10 per cent of the total world cassava production.

“Cassava farmers in Nigeria suffer immense challenges including lack of access to mechanised farming equipment, appropriate cassava processing techniques and a highly volatile price fluctuation due to a poorly developed market.

“It is my hope that the CAMAP project with a target of one million farmers over a five-year period will contribute to the government’s expectation of $8.5 billion from the cassava production before the year 2020.”

He, therefore, said the government was ready to offer tax breaks to investors, who were ready to build new cassava processing plants to capture a share in the growing market and also to provide infrastructure like power lines, road networks among others.

Also speaking at the event, the Executive Director of African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Dr. Denis Kyetere, said:

“The goal of the Cassava Mechanisation and Agro-Processing Project was to enhance the contribution of cassava production and processing technologies to sustain food security, incomes and livelihoods of farmers, processors and marketers in production.”

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