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Nigeria’s New Agric. Policy to Close Food Production Gaps – Minister.

As Nigeria prepares for the official launch of the new policy on agriculture, Minister of Agriculture & Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, says the new roadmap will tackle the challenges of meeting domestic food need and global standards of food export.

Ahead of the official launch and public presentation of the Agricultural Sector Roadmap tagged The Green Alternative: Agricultural Promotion Policy 2016 – 2020, Ogbeh says it has become imperative to “refresh our strategy” to tackle these two issues head on.

According to the Minister, the policy of the past government, Agricultural Transformation Agenda, ATA focused on how to make Nigeria’s agriculture more productive, efficient and effective. “It set a target of creating 3.5 million jobs by 2015; generating foreign exchange, and reducing spending on food imports.

Among its key achievements was a restructuring of the federal fertilizer procurement system. “ATA, however, also faced challenges and did not deliver on all the targets identified. For example, Nigeria still imports about $3 to $5 billion worth of food annually, especially wheat, rice, fish and sundry items, including fresh fruits.

“As a result, Nigeria is not food secure. Wastage levels remain high in production areas, reducing supply of feedstock to processing factories, requiring them to keep importing supplies. The net effect is limited job growth across the agricultural value chain from input production to market systems, and continued use of limited foreign currency earnings to import vast quantities of food.

The Minister says the policy and strategic focus is now on how to build on the initial progress made, and transition Nigeria to a new plane in terms of agribusiness performance. “primary focus will be on closing the demand – supply gaps between crop and livestock production. Gap closing will also include tackling related input, financing, storage, transport and market access issues present in key value chains.

“Nigeria is facing two key gaps in agriculture today: an inability to meet domestic food requirements, and an inability to export at quality levels required for market success. The former problem is a productivity challenge driven by an input system and farming model that is largely inefficient. As a result, an ageing population of farmers does not have enough seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, crop protection and related support to be successful.

“The latter challenge is driven by an equally inefficient system for setting and enforcing food quality standards, as well as poor knowledge of target markets. Insufficient food testing facilities, a weak inspectorate system in the ministry, and poor coordination among relevant federal agencies serve to compound early stage problems such as poor knowledge of permissible contaminant levels.”

Audu Ogbeh adds that as productivity improves domestically and standards are raised for all Nigerian food production, export markets will also benefit impacting positively on Nigeria’s balance of payments.

“First, the ministry will prioritize improving productivity into a number of domestically focused crops and activities. These are rice, wheat, maize, fish (aquaculture), dairy milk, soya beans, poultry, horticulture (fruits and vegetables), and sugar.

“Nigeria believes that the gap can be closed by partnering closely with private investors across farmer groups and companies to develop end to end value chain solutions. These chains will receive facilitated government support as they make deep commitments to engaging a new generation of farmers, improving supply of specialized fertilizers and protection chemicals, as well as wider scale use of high yielding seeds.

He said the country will work with investors to sharply improve the distribution system for fresh foods so as to reduce time to table, reduce post-harvest losses, and overall improve nutritional outcomes by lowering of diabetic risk and stunting risk among others.

Audu Ogbeh, says the ministry will prioritize for export markets the production of the following crops and activities: cowpeas, cocoa, cashew, cassava (starch, chips and ethanol), ginger, sesame, oil palm, yams, horticulture (fruits and vegetables), beef and cotton.

“The ministry will also work with a network of investors, farmers, processors and other stakeholders to deepen the supporting infrastructure to ensure that quality standards are defined and maintained across the value chain.

“That will involve adding more testing laboratories, improving traceability of crops, disseminating intelligence on export markets and consumer preferences, etc. Our goal is to build a high quality brand for Nigerian foods based on rigorous data and processes that protect food safety for both domestic and export market consumers.”

The policy document, which had earlier received the endorsement of the Federal Executive Council is to be launched by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, next week.

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