President Goodluck Jonathan vowed in Abuja on Monday that government would deal decisively with importers deliberately frustrating government’s efforts at boosting local production of food items.
Jonathan made the avowal at the inauguration of the Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council.
The president said he was briefed that some companies that were ripping off Nigerians through importation of goods that could be ordinarily sourced locally, were working toward frustrating government’s policies.
“I have learnt that some aspects of our transformation agenda are reducing the excess gains some companies are making and for that reason, they are doing things to frustrate us.
“Let me use this opportunity to make it very clear that government will not allow any individual or group of individuals or any company to frustrate our agricultural transformation agenda.’’
The president decried a situation in which the nation, with its abundant agricultural potential, spent more than N10 billion dollars (about on N1.5 trillion) on importation of some food items annually.
“It is an established fact that agriculture, which is the most important sector of Nigeria’s economy in terms of contribution to the GDP, is about 44 per cent and employment is about 70 per cent has performed poorly over the years due to the neglect of the sector since the discovery of oil.
“In the 60s, Nigeria was the largest producer and exporter of products like groundnut, palm oil; second largest exporter of cocoa and the largest exporter of cotton in West Africa.
“The neglect of the agricultural sector has led to Nigeria losing market shares in these commodities to other countries.
“Whereas the country has huge agricultural potential with 84 million hectares of arable land, Nigeria today is one of the largest importers of food in the world, spending over 10 billion dollars annually importing wheat, rice, sugar and fish.
“This poses several challenges for us as a nation.’’
Jonathan reiterated his administration’s commitment to unlocking the huge potential of the sector and making Nigeria self-sufficient in food production.
He noted that by focusing on agriculture, the nation would diversify its economy and reduce foreign exchange spent on food imports.
The president said his administration’s agricultural agenda had set a target of adding an additional 20 million tonnes of food into the domestic food supply by 2015.
He said government also planned to create 3.5 million jobs from both farm and non-farm sub-sector over the next five years.
“Government is determined to end the era of food imports. We must eat what we produce and add value to production to create markets for our farmers.
“To underscore this, last month I launched bread and confectionaries made with 20 per cent to 30 per cent cassava flour with the ultimate goal of increasing it to 40 per cent.
“It is in order to facilitate the actualisation of our vision for the agricultural sector that I have set up the Agricultural Transformation Implementation Council,’’ he said.
In his remarks, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adeshina, said the inauguration was historic and marked the beginning of the transformation of the sector.
He assured that members of the council would cooperate with government and work assiduously to achieve the set goals.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the council is chaired by the president with Vice-President Namadi Sambo as the alternate chairman.
Members of the council are governors of Adamawa, Anambra, Ondo, Akwa-Ibom, Benue, Kebbi and Niger states.
The Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adeshina is the Coordinator and Secretary to the Council.
Other members are Ministers of Finance, National Planning, Trade and Investment, Water Resources, Power, Transport, and Works as well as Minister of State for Agriculture.
The CBN governor, the Chief Economic Adviser to the president, Chairman of Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Representative of Farmers Association of Nigeria are also members of the council.
Other members are Chairmen of Seed Industry Association of Nigeria, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and Bankers Sub-committee on Development.
The Directors-General International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Africa Rice Centre, Security Exchange Commission and a private investor, Mr Tony Elumelu are also members.