Nigeria: Obasanjo Urges DR Congo to Invest in Agric to Help Africa Cut $50bn Food Import Bill

Olusegun Obasanjo.

Former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, on Tuesday called on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to invest in agriculture and particularly cassava, soybean, cowpea and plantain to help Africa cut down annual food imports that is estimated at $50billion.

Mr Obasanjo spoke during the official inauguration of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Kalambo research station in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by the country's President, Felix Tshisekedi.

The research station is named "The President Olusegun Obasanjo Research Station", in honour of the ex-President who is also the IITA Goodwill Ambassador.

Giving a shoplist of crops the government should invest in, he said, "The first crop to take is cassava... The second crop is soybean because it is very important for human nutrition and livestock. The next is cowpea and lastly plantain. If we invest in these crops, we will be able to reduce the $50bn that Africa is spending annually on importing food."

Mr Obasanjo underlined the importance of research to agricultural transformation, citing the Nigerian example where his administration was able to raise cassava production by 20 million tons during his eight year-tenure.

Mr Obasanjo commended Nteranya Sanginga, IITA Director General for his leadership, and the institute (IITA) for its excellent research in addressing the problems facing Africa.

The IITA ambassador congratulated President Tshisekedi for providing the enabling environment and support to IITA to establish the centre, stating that he felt deeply honored to be part of it.

At the inauguration were Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB); Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde; and the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, among others.

Mr Sanginga said the research station was in dedication to IITA and its partners' mission of fighting hunger and poverty in Africa and would contribute towards boosting agricultural productivity in DR Congo and the region.

"The station is a symbol of our dedication and commitment to building the research and development capacity in DR Congo and the Great Lakes," he said.

He reiterated the importance of research to agricultural transformation and cited the progress made by Nigeria in cassava to the role of research innovations developed by IITA and its partners.

The IITA Director for the Central African Region, Bernard Vanlauwe, added that the lab building was built in record time using modern methods and materials.

"Indeed, the first stone was placed in October 2017 and the building completed in 18 months. This speed and efficiency symbolize the nature of the activities taking place in the lab, namely the rapid and large-scale production of healthy planting materials of crops of key importance to the DRC as well as the production of bio-fertilizers to ensure the growth and quality of these crops," he explained.

For many years, the station in Kalambo operated in project mode but in 2011, the IITA Board of Trustees decided to elevate it to become the focal point of the Institute's regional hub for natural resource management in the Great Lakes.

It now also features a first-class tissue culture lab for the vegetative multiplication of cassava, banana, coffee, yam, and potato.

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