The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh has reiterated his support for pro-vitamin A cassava as a viable option for Nigeria’s quest for food security, saying it is important to prioritize nutrition in agriculture.
The minister also commended the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) for playing a pivotal role in the development of the pro-vitamin A-rich varieties of cassava, which are currently grown and eaten by over 1.2 million farming households in more than 24 states across Nigeria. The delivery of the crops in the country is anchored by HarvestPlus Nigeria program, which is working with state partners, to tackle malnutrition, especially Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) as well as to improve public health.
The minister made the submission at the 2016 edition of National Cassava Summit themed “Towards A $5b Per Annum Industry over The Next 5 Years,”organised by the Partnerships Initiative for The Niger Delta (PIND) in Abuja.
The minister distributed pro-vitamin A cassava stem packs to 10,000 farmers in his hometown, Otukpo, in Benue State in August, a move that strengthens government’s resolve to encourage more farmers to adopt the nutritious variety of the staple crop, as well as, advances the cause of combating malnutrition through biofortification.
Ogbeh, in his address at the summit, said the best way forward for Nigeria’s agricultural sector is for farmers to mechanize their operations and adopt better varieties of commodities they grow. He added that efforts are being made by the government to provide credit support to farmers in terms of policies on lending to the sector, noting that he is vehemently making the case for single digit interest rate of 7 percent on loans for farmers.
“We have to increase the yield per hectare in our farms. In some places, the yield is 15 tonnes per hectares, in others it is as low as 8 tonnes. We need to target at least 30 tonnes per hectare. In other words, varieties have to change. We need to include pro-vitamin A cassava, which has been developed by IITA, in that exercise.
“Both cassava and rice are slightly deficient in vitamin A. However, the micronutrient is very good for the eyes. The new variety of cassava with vitamin A by IITA is a major development for this country’s growth. We should not just talk about food, we should talk about nutrition as well,” he said.
In his keynote address, the Project Leader, Cassava Weed Management Project, IITA, Dr. Alfred Dixon said urbanisation had taken a toll on agriculture in Nigeria, noting that the trend could be reversed through copious investment in developing the value chain of commodities such as cassava, for which Nigeria ought to have a competitive advantage over other countries.
“Cassava is an appropriate commodity to feature in Nigeria’s economic development. Nigeria’s cassava production accounts for 20 per cent of the total global output but less than 1 per cent is being exported,” he said.