President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday said all challenges and barriers Nigeria is facing are surmountable, urging citizens to expect more actions from his government such that will trigger economic growth and lift millions out of poverty.
According to him, diversifying the economy could no longer be a slogan but a necessity; adding that agriculture will be used to save foreign exchange and pull many out of poverty.
Buhari, who chaired the 8 Bola Tinubu Colloquium in Abuja, said despite tough fiscal times, his administration will continue to make substantial investments in human capital development.
He said: “The theme for this year could not have been better chosen. As the nation grapples with decades of dependence and profligacy of natural resources, and the coincidence of shrinking of oil prices, the chickens have indeed come home to roost.
“Diversifying the economy can no longer be a slogan. It has become a necessity.
“Economic growth cannot just be for the lucky few at the top, it has to be broad-based, for every Nigerian citizen, and a good place to start is with the agricultural sector.
“We face urgent challenges – tackling insecurity, creating jobs, addressing the country’s balance of payments and stimulating and sustaining national economic recovery.
“ But even as we deal with these issues, I know it is also important, and indeed critical to focus on the pressing challenge that confronts some millions of our men, women and children around the country — the injustice of hunger and the need for long-term food security.”
He listed the trouble with the sector as low productivity and poor infrastructure, weak market access as well as weak market institutions.
“Nearly all our crop-based farming activities are dependent on rain-fed agriculture, and this makes our agricultural productivity entirely vulnerable to the effects of climate change,” Buhari said.
He pleaded with Nigerians not to be discouraged or disillusioned.
He said: “And I know there will always be some skepticism. Some have become disoriented and impatient enough to think that barriers are insurmountable. But the people in this hall disagree.
“Anyone who claims great change is impossible can only look at the extraordinary successes that Nigerians have achieved. “Despite the odds, we have incredible examples of entrepreneurs who have set up processing facilities, green house farming, commercial off-taking systems and retail chains.
“We can achieve more with partnerships that link up and scale our respective efforts. I am declaring that we need a new approach that challenges more state and local governments, more organisations, more companies, more development partners, more NGOs, challenges individuals — some of the young people who are here and in our nation— to step up and play a role — because government cannot and should not do this alone. This has to be all hands on deck.
“As the wheel starts turning in the direction of progress, we must stay committed knowing we can do this. We just need to bring it all together.
“We can unleash the change that makes agriculture work for our people and our nation. We can trigger the kind of economic growth that lifts millions out of poverty.
“This is the renewed commitment that we are making. As I declare the Eighth Bola Tinubu Colloquium open, I want to pledge to you today that our commitment to agriculture will remain a priority for this government.”
In the President’s view, Nigeria cannot continue to spend $11billion annually to import wheat, rice, sugar and fish.
He said the unbridled expenditure of foreign exchange on things we can grow at home must stop.
He broke some cheery news— from November 2015 the Central Bank of Nigeria had set aside N40 billion for rice and wheat farming under an Anchor Borrowers Programme.
He said the Federal Government was collaborating with nine rice-producing states to revolutionise rice production with a view to attaining self-sufficiency in the shortest possible time
Said the President: “In the past few years, on the average, we have spent in excess of 11 billion US dollars annually, importing wheat, rice, sugar and fish. We need not, and indeed we cannot afford to continue on this trajectory.
“The real point is not to complain about the difficult terrain, but to change it. This is why this administration has prioritised agriculture and food security as the basis for socio-economic development, not least because of our conviction that Nigeria has the potential to produce what it eats, but also that we can be the breadbaskets of West Africa.
“Agriculture is key to our economic growth and social investment policies. Our administration’s key strategy is to ensure that Nigeria becomes self-sufficient in the foods that we consume the most.
“ Maize, rice, corn, millets, fruits, poultry products and their derivatives can all be produced at home if we put our hearts into it. Our policy is simple- WE WILL PRODUCE WHAT WE EAT! It is not only logical, it is necessary!
“We cannot be held up by the way things are, vulnerable to crude oil prices and our unbridled expenditure of foreign exchange on things we can grow at home. This is why from November 2015 the Central Bank of Nigeria set aside N40 billion for rice and wheat farming in an Anchor Borrowers Programme that provides single-digit finance to farmers and links them along the value chain to processors.
“Again, the Federal Government is now working with nine rice-producing states to revolutionise rice production with a view to attaining self-sufficiency in the shortest possible time.”
He spoke of plans to mobilize the private sector to support the government’s agricultural programmes.
The President said: “ Next, we are going to attract and mobilise private capital to support government’s investments in the sector. The investment opportunities that we see in the agriculture value chain are immense.
“ Furthermore, we are going to keep focusing on nutrition for young children. We know the effects of hunger and poor nutrition can last a lifetime – children stay out of school to earn their bread, it’s harder to learn, it’s harder to earn a decent living afterwards. This is why a focal aspect of our social investment policy is our School meals.
On his social policy programmes, Buhari said he will go ahead despite austerity measures.
“Now, I know some have asked, in a time of austerity, whether this is not too much a burden for government to bear. The answer is no.
“As President, I can assure you that I know the lives of these young children and the support we can provide matter now, not later.
“We will meet our responsibilities, so that even in these tough fiscal times, we will continue to make substantial investments in human capital development.
“And this is just the beginning. In the coming months, Nigerians will see much more action. We welcome more companies that are willing to invest. We are going to hold ourselves accountable; we will measure results. To the young, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in agriculture are now worthy of consideration.”
Buhari paid glowing tributes to the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
He said: “As you may be aware, the Bola Tinubu Colloquium provides a national platform to highlight and focus on issues of governance in our country. The public-spirited nature of the discourse takes after the man in whose honour the Colloquium is named.
“There are very few patriots, alive or departed, that can match the commitment, resilience and creativity that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has over the past few decades demonstrated in organising Nigeria’s public life for good.
“As he adds another year today, my best wishes and prayers go out to a man who deserves a lot of commendation for what he continues to stand for, Presdent Buhari said.