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Reps decry $10bn food import, neglect of Agricultural research, training and extension services

The House of Representatives, experts in the Agriculture sector and the academia Wednesday expressed concerns over the prolonged neglect and underfunding of research, training and extension services in the Nigeria’s Agricultural sector.

Consequently, stakeholders at a public hearing organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture Institutions have called for deliberate policy and action plans towards revamping the sector as part of efforts to make Nigeria self sufficient in production of agricultural produces and exporter to other countries across the world.

Speaking at the public hearing, the House Committee Chairman on Agricultural Colleges and Institutions, Rep Linus Okorie, said that Nigeria was endowed with all that was required for self-sufficiency and food security.

The public hearing was on three bills: for an Act to amend the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria Act, bill for an Act to establish the Universities of Veterinary Teaching Hospital and a bill for an Act to establish Nigerian Agricultural Associations.

Okorie said, “Farming undeniably, remains an important sector of the Nigerian economy with the greatest incidence of employment generation, potential for food security, self sufficiency and poverty reduction.

“With about 84 million hectares of arable land available for cultivation, 263 billion cubic meters of water bodies (including two of the largest rivers in Africa), a large supply of cheap labour and a huge market population of approximately 183 million people, Nigeria is endowed with all that is required for self-sufficiency and food security.

“Regrettably, however, despite these immense potential, we remain unable to feed ourselves as well as translate the sector into wealth and prosperity for the citizenry as it should be due to decades of misplaced priority and primitive farming practices that have failed to respond proactively to knowledge and technological developments.

“Malaysia, which in the 1960s obtained her first oil palm seedlings from Nigeria today exports palm oil to US and generates over $20 billion annually from palm oil.

Similarly, the United States of America, China and Argentina have all displaced Nigeria as the world largest producer of groundnut, while Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana now lead us in Cocoa production. “Effectively, we are today a net food importing nation, spending over $10 billion annually on food imports.

The immediate cause of this huge hole in the country’s current account position is the scant attention paid to agricultural research, training and extension over the years by all tiers of government,” Okorie said.

He further stated that the ARCN amendment bill seeks to establish Agricultural Development and Extension Fund to be funded through one percent of the duties colleced on agricultural imports and exports and a levy of one percent of the profit before tax of certain identified companies that have a turnover of N100 million and above.

The bill also seeks to empower Nigeria Customs Service and Federal Inland Revenue Service to collect and remit the duty, levy and tax directly to the Council, as well as empower the research institutes and colleges to incorporate Spin-off companies, enter into public private partnership and to hold intellectual property rights over their learning and research products.

Some of the stakeholders who spoke in favour of the bills including: Ambrose Voh, acting ARCN Executive Secretary stressed the need for repositioning of the ARCN and agricultural research institutes in the bid to achieve Federal Government’s diversification programmes.

Voh who canvassed for paradigm shift from the obsolete operations within the sector, harped on the need for minimal administrative and bureaucratic interference in the day-to-day running of the research institutes and colleges by Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. He also called for financial autonomy for the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria and various research institutes and Colleges under the new regime.

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