FG Confirms Fresh Pest Attack on Maize, Vows to Resolve Grazing Malaise

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Mulls single digit interest rate for farming
Nigeria finds pesticide to crush ‘tomato ebola’
James Emejo in Abuja
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Audu Ogbeh, yesterday confirmed the outbreak of a fresh pest attack on the maize crop, particularly in the South-west and Edo State by a disease identified as ‘Armyworm’ which causes wanton destruction to maize farmlands.
The pest which is known to occur usually in May and early June consumes leaf tissue of corn.
However, the minister was quick to add that the pest invasion appeared to have declined since its outbreak following efforts by the ministry in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), one of the world’s leading research partners in finding solutions to hunger, malnutrition, and poverty as well as enhancing crop quality and their commercial viability and productivity. He added, however, that the outbreak was being closely monitored.
Also providing update on the recent outbreak of the pest, Tuta absoluta, commonly referred to as ‘Tomato Ebola,’ which had ravaged tomato farmlands and shot up the market price of the produce,  the minister said it still relied on international solution to fight the invasion, adding that the local remedy proffered by the Ministry and Science and Technology appeared to be defective following revelation that a major component of the solution-the Neem Tree, popularly known as Dogonyaro had the capacity to harm the bees which pollinate the tomato plant.
It further emerged yesterday that President Muhammadu Buhari may approve a proposal to introduce a single digit credit facility for livestock and other farming activities across the country.
However, the minister said the treatment involving the use of Dogonyaro, which is no longer fashionable globally, was not even sufficient to cover up to 1,000 hectares of land, adding that the local remedy could even harm human beings and cause stunted growth on tomatoes.
He said: “What they have may not be totally suitable and may have negative effect on the tomatoes they seek to protect.”
Nevertheless, Ogbeh said government would continue to work with local scientists towards addressing the problem as it currently looks overseas for solace.
Meanwhile, the minister also disclosed that 11 states of the federation had altogether made voluntary donations of 55,000 hectares of land-each contributing 5,000 hectares, for grazing activities across the country.
According to Ogbeh, the states include Plateau, Kaduna, Kano, Gombe, Katsina, Taraba, Niger, Adamawa, Jigawa, Sokoto and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Speaking in Abuja at a media briefing on the forthcoming retreat on livestock and dairy development in Nigeria, which is being organised by the ministry in collaboration with the Africa Business Roundtable, he said the federal government was committed  to resolving the issues associated with the activities of herdsmen, adding that it also formed one of the cardinal objectives of his ministry.
He, further clarified that the much-talked about grazing bill which is before the National Assembly had no input from the ministry while its content may have been exaggerated by social commentators.
Nonetheless, The minister dismissed suggestions that the grazing bill could allow for land grabbing or outright seizure by government for the purpose of grazing against the wish of their owners as well as bolster moves to Islamise the country.
He said government’s current concern was to first, douse the tension on herdsmen activities and subsequently come up with a plan that would standardise the grazing profession in the country.
Ogbe said preliminary investigations into the clashes involving herdsmen revealed community leaders were often times complicit as they collect cash and cows from the herdsmen and give approvals to allow them carry out grazing activities in respective communities.
He added that so far, most of the findings further revealed the attacks were carried out by foreign herdsmen who wandered into the country, as most of them could not speak any Nigerian language.
According to him, by time the grazing practice is stabilised in the country, government may need to pass a law which will restrict foreign cattle rearers from roaming the country, adding that the problem goes beyond the shores of this country as other countries faced similar issues.
On the planned retreat to reposition the livestock and dairy business in the country, the minister said the country’s impressive livestock population had not bridged the gap between expected and actual animal protein intake and had not contributed meaningfully to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the years.
He said the way forward was to intensify efforts at adding value to the industry along the respective value chains.
Ogbeh said in order to attain self-sufficiency in animal protein provision in the short run, and create jobs for millions of youths in the livestock sector, the present administration has mapped out initiatives to correct perceived anomalies.
These, according to him, include the establishment of ranches to be planted with high improved tropical grass and legume species; provision of irrigation for all year commercial fodder production to enhance settlement of pastoralists as well as cattle, sheep and goat improvement through an expanded breeding programme that will be aggressively pursued, using artificial insemination.
Meanwhile, the institute’s Public Relations Officer, Bala Aliyu, disclosed this yesterday, saying the end had come for the disease, which have subjected Nigerians to undue hardship in the last two months.
He said the institute worked extensively to provide a solution to the pest, also known as tomato ebola.
“This vaccine has been found to be very effective after undergoing various scientific testing,” he said.
Aliyu said NARICT was partnering with regulatory agencies to certify the vaccine for onward use by farmers in Nigeria and the world at large.
According to The Cable, Aliyu  said all things being equal, the vaccine would be launched soon, adding that it was the responsibility of the federal government to ensure the vaccine gets the end-users, farmers.
“We will work with the state and federal government agencies to carry diffuse this important development to our teeming farmers in the country and beyond,” Aliyu added.
Tuta absoluta is a specie of moth in family Gelechiidae known by the common names tomato leafminer and South American tomato moth.
It is well known as a serious pest of tomato crops in Europe and South America.
The federal government had engaged experts to find solution to the spread of the pest, which has ravaged six states across the country.