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Cassava can trigger industrial revolution, says NCGA president

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Adewunmi

Adewunmi

Segun Adewunmi, is the National President, Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA). In a chat with DANIEL ANAZIA, he spoke on the imperativeness of agriculture in general and cassava farming in particular in the nation’s drive for economic diversification.

What are some of the things that your organisation, NCGA, has outlined as agenda to move the Nigerian agricultural sector forward, considering the cassava economic integration policy pursued by the previous administration?

First, on behalf of the Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA) and the farmers in Nigeria, we commend the President of the Federal Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces President Muhammadu Buhari, for taking his time to find the round peg fitted for the round hole in the agricultural sector with the appointment of Chief Audu Ogbeh, a seasoned and active farmer as minister. We believe that his appointment will bring more good tidings already started by the immediate past minister, who is now the President of Africa Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina. As an association, we have penciled down some recommendations for consideration of the minister, and as you know, he has just resumed office and we want to give him time to acclimatise before going to him with our position and agenda for the sector.

At the moment, he is being briefed on what is on the ground and I’m sure the officials of the ministry must have mentioned us (the NCGA) to him in their briefing, because we played active role in the last administration. Before now, the farmers’ leadership did not have enough understanding of the operations of the sector as professionals. But today, all those have changed. We now have real farmers at the helm of the affairs of the association. We believe as a minister that understands the workings of the ministry, in an interview with a newspaper some years back, gave a succinct blueprint on how to revamp the agriculture sector in Nigeria. So, the moment he was nominated as a minister and passed the Senate screening exercise, there was wide jubilation and congratulatory messages from farmers across the country, especially the NCGA, with speculations that he would be assigned to the ministry, and today, he is the minister. He is an active farmer and he understands the sector very well. He knows what needs to be done to move it forward.

Looking back at the activities of the last administration, what is your take on the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA)?

I will say that the last administration got it right because there was a round peg in the round hole, when the right man, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina was assigned the job. We are happy today he has transcended to the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), a continental development finance institution established to contribute to the socio-economic development of African countries as president. It is not an over-statement to say that Adesina laid a good foundation for the sector and I believe President Buhari and Chief Ogbeh, both of whom are active farmers of repute, will consolidate on the foundation and move the sector to a greater height, making it a money spinning sector, as obtainable in other parts of the world.

For the first time, under Adesina, the farmers were involved in policy making in the sector. He did not only revolutionise the sector, but also restored the dignity of Nigerian farmers, bringing them to the limelight and to the attention of government, where previously it had been a master-servant relationship. For instance, I’m a member of the High Quality Cassava Initiative/Oversight Committee, so also, are the leaders of Cassava Processors and the Master Bakers. That singular action made it impossible for the farmers in Nigeria to criticise government policies, the process of which they were part. Again, by that singular act, the Nigerian farmers were brought together to tinker and synergise for the good of the sector as well as the welfare of the members of the farmers’ associations. This gave us insight into how the government was thinking and how they often arrived at policy formulations and implementations. We definitely do not have enough cassava bread on our table today; we cannot also ascertain the quantity of cassava flour sold directly by HQCF producers to the master bakers for production of bread. But the foundation for the targeted 20 percent inclusion is already laid. This is why Nigerian farmers are jubilating for the caliber of the personality of the new Minister. His choice is a divine intervention in the affairs of Nigeria as a nation.

What role do you think agriculture can play in the drive to diversify the economy?

Cassava has five major industrial products, namely, ethanol, industrial starch, cassava flour, glucose syrup and sweetener. Each of these is a raw material to numerous utility products with limitless domestic export market potentials. This is to say that cassava can trigger massive industrial revolution that will employ millions of Nigerians in farming and industry. Nigeria has over 84 million hectares of arable land, out of which, if only additional five million is devoted to the cultivation of cassava, we shall have additional 200 million metric tons yearly. This will give us 50 million metric tons of industrial starch, which is currently sold for N180,000 per ton. This translates to N9 trillion in one year.

The above can be achieved within four years. I am happy to tell you that NCGA has started the process. We have requested for and got 6,000 hectares of land for ethanol production from many states, and we are starting with Ekiti State, where the Governor, Ayodele Fayose, has granted 6,000 hectares of farmland for cultivation of cassava that will be used for the production of ethanol. The only constraint is agricultural land development programme, which is part of the dream Ogbe expressed several years ago when he was the Chairman of PDP. If we have contiguous farmland demarcated into 10 hectares blocks and allocated to farmers across the country under keen supervision of competent extension officers, we shall begin to reap 40 metric tonnes and above from an hectare of farmland as against 10 metric tonnes that our small holder famers get at present. This is how cassava products can penetrate the international market.

Do you think the current administration will get it right, particularly making agriculture the next biggest revenue source for the country?

Let me state clearly here that this government came into existence as an answer to the prayer of the Nigerian people. This is evident in the manner of choice of those saddled with the responsibility for the much-desired change. For example, the choice of Raji Fashola to handle three important ministries is reminiscent of that of Joseph who was appointed by Pharaoh to manage the economy of Egypt. “And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art.” Gen. 41:39

Raji Fashola had done a lot in turning Lagos State around. Let him do it for the entire nation. We cannot but pay the incessant tribute to Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu for his wonderful power of identifying talents. We have spoken about the new Minister for Agriculture as the best choice that can actualise the dream of Nigeria in Agricultural sector. We already know the destination; we are just waiting for the event to unfold. The Angel of God is actually partnering with Mohammadu Buhari to take us to the next level.

“Behold I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.” Exodus 23:20

What has been your achievement so far as President of the NCGA?

Our association is the only farmers’ body in Nigeria that has befitting office equipped with modern furniture and other office needs. We also have modern guest houses in Abuja and Akure Ondo State. We have landed properties including, a house next to the office of the Deputy Governor of Kogi State in Lokoja. We have over 20 utility vehicles used for tracking farms. We have over 100 graduate extension staff equipped with GPS and laptops that ensure that every cassava farm, especially, for HQCF is tracked and recorded in our database. We have just made arrangements to float a Cassava Development Microfinance Bank. Our new HMA will be requested to declare it open in February 2016. All beneficiaries of loans and grants are listed with their full identities in our website (www.ncgaonline.org) and can be reached on phone for confirmation. We have strong administrative structure from ward to the national level. All the above were achieved within three years of our administration. The credit does not belong to me as a person but the entire national and state executives, because it was as a result of teamwork.

How do you create a balance in your tasking schedules — managing the Cassava Growers Association of Nigeria, the Ministry (Church), and your farming business?

I see the cassava project campaign as part of my assignment as a minister of God. Firstly, we must acknowledge that the only thing that God did personally and practically was inspection of the Garden of Eden in the cool of the days. It is, therefore, relevant for a man of God like me to farm. Point number two is that today in Nigeria there are too many pastors parasiting on the economy, a situation that is not good for the country. Most of our professionally qualified medical doctors, engineers, accountants and people in other professions are no longer creating wealth. Realising that Paul, the Apostle, was also a tent maker, we should work and encourage our followers to also work and not see the church as a place for 419 miracles.

I must commend our senior colleagues in the church ministry, whose academic background show why they are creating opportunities in educational sectors by building good universities. Unfortunately the need to maintain good standard for their school made most of the universities unaffordable for the ordinary church members. Agriculture now creates a good opportunity for these church leaders to put millions of Nigerians on good jobs in farming and industry. Religious organisation alone can bail Nigeria out of her economic challenges. Thirdly, as pastors we must demonstrate what we preach, especially, why and how to prosper in what we do. We got into Cassava Growers Association less than four years ago. I met the total Assets of 14 plastic chairs the financial worth of which was less than N10,000. Today, we have assets worth over N500 million and population of over 1.5 million. Believers are people created to make impact, as the bible says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). It is not difficult to demonstrate the above and prosper. “And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prosper.” (2 Chronicles 31:21)


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