Interview

Trouble looms if we don’t earn $15billion from non-oil export by 2020 – Audu Ogbe

Non-oil export is generating controversy as some Nigerians argue that the export of agricultural produce like yam would create scarcity in the local market and lead to price hike. Some even argue that Nigerians don’t have enough of the agricultural produce to eat not to talk of exporting. But the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe, justifies the export, saying the nation produces 61 per cent of global yam but that 30 per cent rot away each year. According to him, with dwindling price of crude oil from which Nigeria earns the bulk of its foreign exchange, especially as many countries are now turning to electric cars, if the nation does not meet its target on non-oil export, it would be doomed in a few years’ time.

Justification for non-oil export

Almost 30 per cent of the yams grown in Nigeria rot away because we have no facilities for preservation. At the time we started exporting yams; new yams had started coming out. There was a fight in Kwara and it was about new yam festival. So, new yams are here.

The old yam stock is still heavy. So they are going to rot away if we don’t do anything.

I saw someone on TV who also tweeted that it was not a great achievement and that it would have been wiser if we converted the yams to yam starch so that pharmaceutical companies can buy it at a higher price.

In his argument, he omitted something. He didn’t tell Nigerians the price of a 3kg tuber of yam in London or in the US. I was in the US last year. I went to North Carolina University and a group of Nigerians gave me lunch.

A 3kg tuber of yam was selling for $15. Multiply that by 350. They say these things and confuse people. That critic even said he was not sure the yams will not be fed to animals. That is a very bad point and totally unrealistic and illogical.

And then there are about 4 or 5 million Nigerians in the UK and they are looking for yams. These are Nigerians who are entitled to feed, to benefit from what their country produces.

From Texas to North Carolina, Nigerians have been calling, ‘Why are you exporting only to the UK?’ The world yam market is worth $10 billion. Why shouldn’t we be part of it?

We embarked on yam export because we have capacity to do so… and because the demand for our products abroad is very high, other than oil and gas. We need to be bold in what we are trying to do. If there is such a huge demand, rather than bemoan the export, let us grow yams.

We have 45 million hectares of land-a hectare is a football field-lying fallow. What are we afraid of? Let us grow yams. The only challenge in the way of yam production is labour. If you are in Benue, you have to get young men to make the heaps and if you are in Ebonyi, the yam heaps are very high. This is why Ebonyi yams are this high (gesticulates), very large because they are soft tubers. Ebonyi , Delta north and Onitsha area produce big yams.

How to tackle obstacle

Making the yam heaps is the challenge because young men are leaving the villages to ride Okada in the towns. And the cost of making the yam heaps are going to increase, so we are designing a new plough at the Nigerian Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation, Ilorin. We are building new tractors and ploughs for yams.

Once we mechanise, if the world want $20 billion worth of yams, we give them.

Petrol dollars going

India announced two weeks ago that by 2030 no single car made or brought into India will be using diesel or petrol. They will all be electric. Germany is passing a law along that line. The French are wiring up their highways for vehicles; the US is working on the shale fields and of course the Chinese will soon start their own.

So if we are waiting for oil and gas thinking that a miracle will happen, none of you, in another six, seven years, will be a happy human being. You can’t, because we don’t have the money and we are borrowing heavily.

Implications for debt servicing. How do you repay the loan in dollars?

There is a very wealthy Nigerian, you all know him but I won’t call his name. He is very rich. He is a very unhappy man now. He said to me,a few days ago, that he was owing $3 billion abroad on his investments. He has mountains of Naira here but he couldn’t convert the money into dollars and his partners abroad are angry with him.

So we have got to earn dollars, Euros and Pounds Sterling. We have got to change gear a little bit.

 

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