The minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, has said the Bank of Agriculture (BoA) will become the largest bank in the country after its restructuring by the federal government.
“We have begun the process of restructuring the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) and by the time we finish, it will become the largest bank in this country, with probably anything between 25 and 30 million depositors and shareholders”, he stated.
In an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP, Ogbeh reeled out other achievements of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration including bringing back the universities of agriculture under the ministry of Agriculture after 16 years in the wilderness.
He said the present administration has succeeded in heavily cutting down food importation, particularly rice since its assumption of office two years ago.
The minister noted that against 2015 when Nigeria imported 580,000 metric tonnes of rice, the federal government was able to cut down importation of the product to as low as 58,000 metric tonnes by 2016, which is 90 per cent.
“We cut down on food importations very heavily, such as rice. In 2015 Nigeria imported 580,000 tonnes of rice. In 2016, the figure dropped to 58,000 tonnes”, he said.
The minister expressed optimistism that by the end of this year, the federal government will absolutely end rice importation, which he assured will amount to saving $5 million a day.
Ogbeh said, “We also succeeded in telling Nigerians that agric is the alternative. We published a document called the Green Alternative and the message has gone everywhere and the response to agriculture and agriculture investment has never been as massive as it is now, with big farmers, small farmers, even young educated people beginning to recognise the fact that this is where to go for a country to survive.
“We have done a new soil map of Nigeria and farmers now know and more and more of them are getting to know that every soil has a specific nutritional need. So, you do not just apply the same old fertilizers we did in the past- what they called NPK 15:15:15. We now have varieties pending on where you are planting”.
He stated that the result had been a quantum leap in the yields on virtually all crops, from two tonnes in some cases to five and even seven and half
His words: “People have asked me what difference does it make; is there any precedent anywhere in the world?. The answer is clear. India has 87 universities of Agriculture, Brazil has 70 and China 25, to mention just three. We had only three here and for some reasons, for 16 years, they simply did not really concentrate on their core mandates.
“By that we are not saying don’t teach anything else, but you were set up by law to engage in agricultural research, teaching and extension work. And the countries I have mentioned, Brazil and India in particular, have gained tremendously.
“In the 60s, India faced the worst starvation any country had ever experienced in the world. Between then and now, India has become a major exporter of food after feeding 1.2 billion people. The universities and research institutes played a major part”.
The minister added that one of the reasons why there is so much decline in agricultural production in the country is the fact that Nigeria forgot that modern agriculture is Scientific, knowledge based and knowledge driven.
He continued: “So, these Universities are back and we are going to do things and you will see what the results will be in a short while. Research improvement in seeds, science, information dissemination, and extension services and so on.
“States like Kebbi, Jigawa, Kano, Ebonyi, Anambra, the states of the South East, among others, are coming on board. The South West States are coming on; everybody is now slowly recognizing that we simply have no choice. Finally, once we tidy up the need for grains, we are about to launch one more programme, the plantation initiative.
“Then, of course, we brought back the National Land Development Agency and by next year when we acquire equipment, we will begin to clear more lands for people who want to go into agriculture”.