‘This old man will not be here when you are dying of hunger’

  • December 14, 2017

Said H.E. Mr. Audu Innocent Ogbeh, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigeria, in an interview with The Times of Africa, stressing on why the youth of the erstwhile oil-driven economy should engage in agriculture. He has been keenly observing the developments in India – both political and economic – and on his fifth visit here, he informs about how elated he is to see India making steady progress in all the sectors.

 What changes have you observed in India over the years?

My first visit to India was in 2003. India has been making steady progress. India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is growing steadily at more than 6%. Its economic growth, advancement in science and technology and its ability to meet the needs of food production is very impressive.

I was a very young man in the 1960s, when India was going through a lot of crisis in food production. Foreign organisations were sending aid to India. For India to come out of the crisis this way inspires us immensely.

We want a South-South arrangement to deal with the challenges of food security, technology exchange, knowledge transfer and so on. The South-South nations know each other’s problems as they have had a similar experience in the past.

Nigeria is already the most populous country in the African continent. It will reach about 450 million by 2050. Therefore, the challenge is of feeding, housing and providing medical care and other facilities to the population. We need to see a lot more of how India has coped and dealt with the challenges of its growing population.

You are talking about the 1960s when India faced issues in terms of food security. But then came ‘The Green Revolution.’ Could the model of India’s Green Revolution be replicated in Nigeria?

 

That’s the arrangement we are following currently because we know it will work. India has done a lot in seed improvement, university education, research, and agriculture techniques. The Indian Agriculture and Research Institute (IARI) has worked efficiently and done first-rate research, generated appropriate technologies and helped in the development of human resources.

We are also looking at the example of Brazil to look for alternative technologies and methods to provide enough food to our population.

 How can the young entrepreneurs be encouraged to get involved in agriculture?

You know what I say to them each time we meet? I say, this old man will not be here when you are dying of hunger in 25 years. Who will feed you? Not many young people are interested in agriculture because it is not an ‘in’ thing for them.

I ask them who will feed you. Because a major population of the farmers is over 65-years-old now. They are already too tired to use a hoe and a plough. If young people don’t get involved in food production, it is the young people who will die of hunger.

In order to attract the young entrepreneurs, we are trying to mechanise agriculture and helping them get them cheaper credit from the banks.

At present, banks don’t lend money to agriculture at affordable rates of interest. They lend at 20-25% and you cannot borrow at such rates and get profits out of your produce. And then we have to mechanize and deal with value-addition.

On Saturday before I left home, I had a meeting with various banks, where we asked them to bring down the interest rates. If they don’t, we will have to create a fund that lends money to farmers at 5% rates of interest or maybe even less.

On the positive side, there are many young people who are moving towards agriculture.

I have a son and he read medical engineering from the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom. He is now running my farm. (Mr. Ogbeh was the Chairman and Managing Director of Efugo Farms). I, myself, have been involved in agriculture for over 40 years, where I dealt with cashew-nuts, chicken, fishing, and livestock.

The problem we have, however, is access to credit; they cannot find money. That is the problem the Government has resolved to solve.

Can you brief us on the ‘Agriculture Promotion Agenda’?

From 1980, the attention of all Nigerians went to oil and gas. We were making money and spending money carelessly. Consequently, agriculture got confined to the backyard. At present, the oil revenues have begun to fall. We, thus, needed an alternative, a ‘Green Alternative.’

The whole idea is to bring in the private sector in agriculture and we are happy that the private sector is responding well.

The companies in India are doing exemplary research for us, especially in soil and seed improvement. Use of technology to reach out to farmers, too, is an exciting opportunity.

We want to make agriculture the main driver of Nigeria’s diversified economy. We were strong before; we got weak but now we have learned from our mistakes and now we are getting back our strength together to become strong again.

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