To better place in context the drive for agricultural transformation in Nigeria, let me start with what the global picture looks like and some critical trends that must reshape the way we look at food production in Nigeria.
The world witnessed a dramatic increase in global food prices in 2007-2008, the largest increase in decades. FAD index of food prices rose by 9 % in 2006, 23% in 2007 and 54% in 2008. The total food import bill globally in 2008, estimated at $1,035 billion, exceeded that of2007 by an estimated $ 215 billion. The total number of people living on less than $1.25 per day swelled by an additional 75 million in 2008.
Across Africa the rising price of basic foods led to food riots. The poor suffered disproportionately, reducing caloric intake, shifting to lower cost and less nutritious foods, food rationing, including skipping meals.
The root cause of the food problem in Africa is deeply structural: low agricultural productivity. Total factor productivity of agriculture has been low in Sub-Saharan Africa. Between 1992 and 2003, total factor productivity in East Africa was a mere 0.4%, while West and Southern Africa averaged 1.6% and 1.3%, respectively. These rates do not keep up with the rate of population growth and calls for greater investments to raise agricultural productivity.
The International Food Policy Research Institute has shown that doubling investments in research and development in Sub-Saharan Africa will lift an estimated 144 million people out of poverty.
Today, another global food crisis looms. Food prices have risen again in 2011. Africa, which already spends over $50 billion annually on food imports, will need to spend more. As it does, it will simply be importing food inflation from global markets.
So if those events of a couple of years ago brought clarity and focus to the challenge and solution, the events of today bring a renewed urgency for action. We must translate research and innovations into impacts on farmers' fields. And we must do this at scale that can drive down hunger and poverty.
Africa has the potential. We are blessed with abundant natural resources – twelve times the land area oflndia and less than two thirds as many people to feed. If Africa were to double its average cereal yield from one to two tons per hectare that would lead to an extra 100 million tons a year of cereals. This is enough, alone, to shift Africa from a food deficit to a major food surplus region.
But we must act quickly. As Dr Norman Borlaug once said "you cannot eat potential." For Africa to solve its food problems it must get six things right: technologies, policies, markets, political will, financing and infrastructure. The solution has its roots in Asia, an area a Nobel Prize economist once called a "basket case." But the Asian countries proved the world wrong by rapidly raising agricultural productivity, with the development and release of the high yielding varieties of rice and wheat which more than doubled or tripled yields. They invested heavily in irrigation and expanded investments in extension and research and development.
They did more. They knew that if farmers produced and could not sell their produce they would lose incentives to adopt new technologies. They put in place price support systems with guaranteed minimum prices. Farmers were provided with access to credit.
The results were dramatic. The area cultivated to the high yielding varieties rapidly rose from zero % in 1965 to almost 60% thirty years later. New wheat crop varieties spread rapidly from less than 2% of cultivated area in 1965 to 90% in 1995. This investment in agriculture fed the continent's growing population and set the foundation for manufacturing and services, and decades of economic growth, employment and rising incomes.
I must submit that the current state of agriculture in Nigeria is not acceptable. Nigeria, which used to be the major player in agriculture in the world, has lost its place in the global community. In the 1960s we had glory. That glory was visible for all to see: Nigeria accounted for 60% of the global supply of palm oil, 30% of ground nut, 20-30% of ground nut oil and 15% of global supply of cocoa. Our farmers, from the North to the South generated wealth.
The quality of lives improved, children went to school. Our nation was food self sufficient. Our farmers fed us and we held up our heads in the community of nations. Today, that glory has been lost. Nigeria is now one of the largest food importers in the world. In 20 I 0 alone, Nigeria spent 635 Billion Naira on import of wheat, 356 billion Naira on importation of rice (that means we spend I Billion Naira per day on rice alone), 217 Billion Naira on sugar imports, and with all the marine resources, rivers, lakes and creeks we are blessed with, Nigeria spends 97 Billion Naira importing fish.
This is not fiscally, economically or politically sustainable. Nigeria is eating beyond its means. While we all smile as we eat rice every day, Nigerian rice farmers cry as the imports undermine domestic production. Our farmers sow in hope, but reap in tears, as cheap food imports dash their hopes of better prices and incomes.
As Nigeria imports food from the global market, all it is doing is importing inflation. On the other hand, low productivity of domestic production systems increases price of non-tradable food crops. Together, these lead to rise in food price inflation. With poor urban and rural households spending 70-80 percent of their incomes on food, life is unbearable for many.
Nigeria can no longer continue to depend on expensive food imports, and thin and volatile global markets, to meet its food requirements. As the events of the food crisis unfolded, traditional food exporting countries put bans on food exports. Thus even if importing countries have the resources to finance food imports the food may not be there. Food security in Nigeria is now a matter of national security.
Nigeria must learn from Asian countries. We must tap into all the resources of our fanners across our nation and deliver a green revolution that will make Nigeria self sufficient in food production. We must turn Nigeria into a breadbasket - a power house for food production. To do so, we must make a fundamental paradigm shift: Agriculture is a business, not a development program. It must be structured, developed, resourced and financed as a business.
The days of treating agriculture as a development project are over. We will develop and transform the sector as a business that works for small fanners, medium and large fanners, that will unlock wealth and allow Nigeria to meet its food needs, while becoming a more player in global food markets, to help diversify income for the nation.
We will work differently, recognize and harness the power of the private sector. We must focus on agricultural value chains where Nigeria should become a major player and ensure that we build our capacity as a nation to compete in those chains.
To advance the transformation agenda of Mr President, we have already launched agricultural transfonnation plans for major commodities. We will focus first on accelerating food production to meet the needs of Nigerians and lower the cost of food. We have therefore launched a green revolution plan for rice, to make Nigeria self-sufficient in rice production within four years. We expect to bring into cultivation an additional 650,000 ha of rice. We will invest in improving quality of locally produced rice and improve competitiveness with imported rice.
We have launched a green revolution for cassava, with sharp focus on value addition to cassava to raise incomes of farmers. We have already launched a major effort on sorghum value chains with planned release of hybrid sorghum which will allow us to produce an estimated 450,000 tons of sorghum by 2012, for use in production of high energy foods and malting industry.
We will revamp our cocoa and oil palm sectors and regain the lost glory in the commodities. We will revamp cotton production, as well as onions and tomato. We have also targeted major improvements in production and markets for livestock, fisheries and aquaculture.
But for this to happen, we need revolution of ideas, mind-sets, approaches, institutions. We must change the way we work at all levels. We must believe yet again that it is possible for Nigeria to be great, once again, in food production and competitiveness in global markets.
We are at the beginning of a journey of transformation - a journey to re-engineer Nigerian agriculture for high impact and success. We must re-build the broken walls of Nigeria's agriculture. Our resolve is clear: "Grow Nigerian Agriculture."
If we grow Nigerian agriculture, and rebuild the broken walls of our agriculture, we will see a remarkable reduction in poverty, just like China and other Asian countries. Today, 70% of Nigerians live on less than $ 1 per day. We have an ocean of poverty surrounding an island of wealth. This must change. China fixed agriculture and experienced a dramatic decline in the number of people living in poverty from 80% to 10% in just ten years (1995-2005). That translates into 440 million people moved out of poverty. Nigeria must do the same. If Nigeria achieves only a 10% increase in agricultural productivity it will lift 70 million people out of poverty - that is almost 50% of the population. Nigerian should not be a museum of poverty. I definitely do not intend to be Honourable Minister over poverty. There is nothing honourable in that!
To grow Nigerian agriculture, and drive down poverty, we must invest more in agricultural research. There is evidence all around us that investing in agriculture pays. For example, lIT A's development of the improved maize varieties in the 1980s led to the transformation of maize production in the northern guinea savanna. Its work on the development of the improved soybeans varieties helped to make Nigeria the largest producer of soybeans in Africa. lITA's bio-control program saved the ECOW AS region an estimated $94 million per year over the last 18 years. In Benin, Ghana and Nigeria, the economic benefit is estimated to reach over $2 billion in the next fifteen years. IITA research on the control the cassava mealy bug generated benefits worth between 15.6 and 27.8 billion US$ in 2004.
IITA is currently deploying a technology, called AflaSafe ™ which reduces aflatoxin contamination in maize by 90% in Kaduna and Kano states, as part of a broad multisector effort to tackle the scourge of aflatoxins in the country. The deployment marks the beginning of large-scale efficacy testing of the aflatoxin biocontrol product in Nigeria, in close collaboration with the Nigerian agricultural research institutions, Federal and State governments, farmers and the private sector.
IITA has excellent national partners. The National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike, has done an outstanding job in contributing to growth in cassava production. It has released several new varieties of cassava; the latest was in 20I0 when it released 4 new cassava varieties.
With all of these improvements, Nigeria has retained its position as the largest producer of cassava in the world, with an estimated production of 45 million MT. However, despite this, Nigeria is not a player on the global cassava market. So, while being the largest producer in the world, Nigeria accounts for zero percent of global value added. Nigeria's attempt to export cassava products to China was not successful due to poor product quality. Thailand, which represents only 10% of the total production in the world accounts for 80% of the global value added. Cassava farmers in Nigeria face huge challenges, including lack of access to high yielding varieties, limited access to appropriate cassava processing technologies and highly volatile price swings for cassava due to poorly developed markets.
As we look at cassava, we must look for ways in which Nigeria can create new products from cassava and add value. I am informed that from your deliberations three major areas were identified which can have huge impacts.
First, is the use of cassava to meet the growing demand for high quality fructose cassava syrup for soft drinks and sweetener industry, and reduce the high cost of import of sugar. This would replace, just for nine bottling plants, an equivalent of 75,000 tons of sugar, equivalent to 300,000 tons of fresh cassava roots.
Second, the use of cassava under the E-IO policy for blending 10"/0 ethanol into petrol. This will produce 1 billion litres per year of ethanol. If 30% of cassava was used, this alone will translate into a raw material equivalent of2 million tons of cassava roots.
Third, the substitution of high quality cassava flour for wheat flour, along with other cereals, would save billions of Naira being spent on importing wheat. We fully endorse and support these directions. These key transformative areas, will open up new markets for cassava farmers, stabilize prices and generate higher incomes; encourage greater local content and save foreign exchange; and accelerate the uptake of high yielding varieties of cassava, some of which can give yields of up to 40 tons per ha under good management.
We will move these areas forward, with transformative enabling policies. What is needed now is to turn these into concrete business investment plans that the Federal and State governments can support, together with the private sector, to reach millions of farmers - especially for women farmers who form majority of the farming population.
Reaching those millions of farmers requires that we organize farmers into clusters that can produce the volumes required by processors. We also need to make sure that they are able to meet the standards required by the processors.
To ensure this, we will put an end to the current lack of institutions around farmers in Nigeria. We will put in place marketing corporations for all of the value chains in Nigeria. Let me be clear: these will not be the old marketing boards. The new marketing corporations will not be run by government, but by the private sector agricultural value chains. They will allow Nigerian agriculture to be coordinated and managed for higher productivity and impacts. We will establish a Cassava Market and Trade Development Corporation which will be tasked with coordinating the cassava value chains, just like they do in Thailand and Brazil.
To further spur the commercialization of cassava, farmers and agro-processors will be able to access 450 billion under the NIRSAL facility of the Central Bank of Nigeria. The Central Bank and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development are partners on NIRSAL. We have selected cassava as one of the commodities to be supported. Banks will make available loans under NIRSAL at affordable rates for farmers and agro-processors.
To be a major player in food markets, Nigeria needs to rapidly increase funding for the agricultural sector. Nigeria's budget for the agriculture sector, as share of government budget, has been extremely low and well below international standards.
Between 1977 and 1980, Nigeria spent less than 1% to 1.3% of its national budget on agriculture. By 1983 this grew to 6%. Today, Nigeria spends only 3% of budget on agriculture - for a sector that accounts for 70% of the population and 44% of the GOP. We are spending today half of what we spent in 28 years ago, yet our population has grown significantly. Nigeria needs to meet the agreed CAADP target of investment of at least 10% of the national budget on agriculture.
We also need to make sure that we put in place a more demand-driven research and development system which will drive the agricultural transformation agenda. We should look at Brazil: it transformed itself into a global power house in food production by using EMPRAPA, a national transformation agency, to drive agricultural growth. We must harness the strengths of our research institutions and strengthen partnerships with farmers and the private sector, to ensure that the products of research meet the needs of stakeholders.
State governments form a critical stakeholder group. 1 am very pleased to see several state commissioners of agriculture here today. This is very encouraging for the transformation agenda. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development will work with state governments in new ways. We will do this by moving away from focusing on projects, which often leads to duplication of efforts. We will focus instead on agribusiness investment partnerships with states, so that together we grow agriculture as viable businesses at the state levels in order to create jobs.
President Goodluck Jonathan has called for the transformation agenda to focus on jobs, especially for the youth, noting that "unemployment among our youth is one of our biggest challenges. The time has come to create jobs and lay a new foundation for Nigeria's economic growth". There is no faster way to expand jobs for the youth than to make agriculture a business that is attractive for them. To do this, we plan to launch a youth-in-agribusiness investment program, which will partner with state governments to enlist young entrepreneurs in all areas of agribusiness.
For only when we do this can our youth have a hope and a future; and only then will the labours of our heroes past not be in vain.
Let us now arise, and let us rebuild the broken walls of Nigeria's agriculture. Let us accelerate the agricultural transformation agenda. Mr President said "I will never, never, let Nigerians down." This must also be our collective resolve.
It was Nelson Mandela who said "there is no such thing as part freedom". Let us resolve to march on together to full freedom, when our peoples will be free from hunger and poverty. Let us together hasten the coming of the day when our fields are filled with plenty; when our barns overflow; when our children dance in our fields; and when Nigerian agriculture's glory is restored and we can feed ourselves with dignity and pride.
By Dr Akinwumi Adesina.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Nigeria)
Vice President (Policy and Partnerships) for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)