By Jonathan Nda-Isaiah, Abuja and Chika Izuora, Lagos
Despite being the fourth largest producer of Irish potatoes in Africa, Nigeria spends N76.4 billion ($250) million every year on importation of potato chips, LEADERSHIP findings have revealed.
It was gathered that Nigeria produces about 843,000 tons of potatoes mainly in the Plateau region but records poor yields.
In Nigeria, farmers produce about 3.1 tons per hectare and are surpassed by the likes of Egypt which does 24.8kg per hectare or 2.6 million tons.
It was learnt that Malawi reportedly does 11.9 per hectare or 2.2 million tons, South Africa 34 tons per hectare or 1.9 million tons, whereas Algeria has the capacity to do 21.1 tons a hectare or 2.1 million and Morocco, 26.0 tons per hectare or 1.5 million tons.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP, chairman of Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Mr. Ade Adefeko said, “We spend close to $250 million importing processed chips from South Africa, Belgium and Holland”.
Adefeko who is also the vice president, corporate and government relations of OLAM Nigeria Limited said Nigeria has the capacity to improve yield to about 25 tons per hectare for a start if farmers are provided with improved seeds and inputs, and also have them imbibe best farming practices and methods.
He said, while potatoes grow well in Plateau and Kaduna axis, 40 percent of the product is wasted due to post harvest losses because of lack of proper storage facilities and processing facilities.
Adefeko noted that Nigeria’s fast food sector is a N200 billion industry and French fries contributes about 8 to 10 per cent of that, adding that “we need to add value to produce fries, potato flakes, potato chips and other derivatives”.
According to him, if proper strategy is put in place, the country will earn significant foreign exchange from exporting the product, even as he lamented that about 100 000 tons is exported unofficially via cross border untracked.
On overall development of the agriculture sector, he said government should be a policy enabler and allow private sector investment to drive it.
“Government has no business in business. The private sector is the engine room and should be allowed to drive same. Agriculture is a business and should be treated as such. Millions of jobs can be created but we must walk the talk and be creative and innovative in our thinking and must be ready to be daring and disruptive”, he added.
On cassava production, Adefeko opined that though the country is the world’s largest cassava producer, adequate policy is required to enhance more yield for export, just as he observed that national budget for agriculture is small.
His words: “Value addition is key; we cannot be producing raw cassava and importing starch, a derivative from say China for example. A value chain must be created and farmers must be assured of off-take via a minimum guaranteed price”.
“If we are serious, the sector’s budget should be nothing less than 20 per cent of total budget. It is currently less than 5 per cent if am not mistaken. Brazil, our contemporary in South America, produces 52 million tons of Soya. Nigeria is struggling with about 500 thousand tons”.
Meanwhile, the federal government yesterday approved a N3.38 billion loan request to boost potato farming in Plateau State.
This was disclosed by the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo at the presidential villa.
According to her, the loan will be sourced from the African Development Bank (ADB) and it is expected to create 60,000 jobs in a potato value chain, from processing, storage, replacement of current inputs and export.
Pointing out that Plateau will contribute N595 million as their own counterpart funding, she noted that the state accounts for 95% of Nigeria’s potato production.
The minister said, “My approval was on behalf of Plateau State to support the potato value chain. There is a loan that we had previously cancelled from ADB. So, it is not a new loan. We cancelled it and redirected the money to request on behalf of Plateau State government to support the potato value chain.
“The rationale is that Plateau actually accounts for 95 per cent of Nigeria’s potato production and from Plateau, potatoes are actually exported to Ghana, Niger, Chad and other countries and despite that, there are huge profit losses because there is no enough storage and there is so much more we can do with Plateau’s potatoes.
“So, ADB has come up with a comprehensive programme that will affect over 100,000 families. It is expected to create 60,000 jobs in a potato value chain, from processing, storage, replacement of current inputs and indeed, export”.
The minister listed the terms of the loan to include 1 per cent per annum interest rate and a 25-year moratorium.
She continued: “Plateau State will provide counterpart funding and the balance will be borrowed, and It will affect 17 local government areas and the government expects it to make significant job creation.
“The amount of the loan is N3.38 billion equivalent and Plateau State ought to contribute N595 million as their own counterpart funding. We have put a process in place to ensure adequate monitoring.
“This is really an important economic development for the nation and for Plateau State in particular. We have real advantage in potato production. We are really going to invest the money on roads. In some cases, the money will be used for roads to enable the products come out. Sometimes, it is for storage; sometimes, it is transportation; sometimes, it is access to seedlings”.
In his briefing, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, disclosed that he presented two ratification memoranda to council on road woks that have to be done under emergency circumstances.
He said the first was the Abuja-Kaduna highway which his ministry had to quickly do palliative work on in order to support the closure of Abuja airport runway, which necessitated diversion of traffic to Kaduna.
He added that at that time, instead of getting council’s approval, the ministry just had anticipatory presidential approval as prescribed under the law for emergency works.
He stated that the second memo was in respect of Apapa-Wharf road, recalling that there was a recent presidential order for a 24-hour port operation and that again put pressure on an already deteriorating road.
Fashola also recalled that he went to hand over the Apapa road in June under the public-private partnership structure between Messrs Julius Berger, Flour Mills, NPA and his ministry to start the construction of the first phase of the road.