18 October 2013

Nigeria Agriculture Minister Advocates Accelerated Use of Biotechnology in African Agriculture

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwumi Adesina, has called for an accelerated pace in Africa's use of biotechnology, through the institution of appropriate biosafety regulations.

Mr. Adesina, who delivered the breakfast keynote address during the ongoing World Food Prize lecture series at the Marriott Hotel, Des Moines, Iowa, USA, also said that feeding the world with more nutritious food, while depending less on chemicals was important.

"Through biotechnology, bio fortified crops such as orange flesh, sweet potatoes, pro-vitamin A cassava and drought tolerant maize now hold great promise for feeding Africa," Mr. Adesina said. "Africa must not miss out on the gene revolution. Others must not make decisions for us. We must make them ourselves. Africa should accelerate the pace of use of biotechnology and put in place appropriate bio safety regulations."

Mr. Adesina said he saw Africa becoming the breadbasket for the world, saying "after all, 60 per cent of all the available uncultivated arable land in the world is in Africa."

"There is a new energy and dynamism across the continent. It can be seen in an emerging middle class, improved governance, and a heightened interest by foreign investors. But amid this excitement, there remains a disturbing paradox. Africa is a continent with enormous potential for agricultural growth, yet one where food insecurity and malnutrition are widespread and persistent."

The minister said for millions of African farmers to be successful, the continent must change the lenses through which it viewed agriculture.

"For decades, Africa has looked at agriculture through the wrong lenses, seeing agriculture as a developmental program run by governments. We see challenges, we see poverty, and we devise solutions for managing poverty. Poverty cannot be the comparative advantage of Africa. We need to see the enormous opportunities and rapidly unlock the potentials for creating wealth through agriculture,' he said.

He noted that Agriculture was a business, not a charitable developmental program and advocated the engagement of the private sector in order to unlock the continent's agribusiness potential. He said that this would create opportunities for millions of farmers to connect to markets, private agribusinesses and add value to what they produce, as well as propel them out of poverty into wealth.

He underscored Nigeria's relegation of agriculture to the background and over-dependence on oil as the economic driver of growth, export income and development, noting that it had bred stagnation and government corruption.

"One tragic result of Nigeria's dependence on oil was an abandonment of our nation's farmers; and food processors; yields stagnated.

"The procurement of seeds and fertiliser was tainted by government corruption; investments in infrastructure were redirected; and rural communities slid into poverty and unemployment. We soon became a food-importing country, spending an average of $11 billion (N1.7 trillion) a year on wheat, rice, sugar and fish imports alone," he said.

Pointing out Nigeria's fundamental resources, which include the abundance of land, water and human capital, Mr. Adesina said that there was a need for a major transformation of Nigeria's agricultural sector, with a focus on creating eco-systems in which small, medium and large-scale farmers would not only co-exist, but also flourish together.

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