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Agric Tops Federal Govt's Transformation Priority

Published by Guardian on Sun, 18 Dec 2011

FOLLOWING the pronouncement of President Jonathan on Tuesday in Abuja on the adoption of cassava bread as choice food, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akin Adesina, has informed that the 40 per cent inclusion of cassava flour in bread is not only a possibility, but is already a reality. The budget has disclosed policies to encourage high quality cassava flour to significantly replace wheat flour in confectioneries.The minister has also disclosed that cassava, beyond being useful for flour making, is now found to be a useful raw material for producing some brands of popular beverages. From his analysis, Nigeria has so much to gain in terms of import substitution, job creation, value chains development and overall economy just as more income would be earned by stakeholders in the industry.Dr. Adesina observed the need to make adequate provision along the value chain to encourage production so as to avert the fear that industrial uptake might create scarcity of cassava for traditional use. He has hinted that his ministry was already considering specific actions towards revitalising the rural countryside, as he lamented that the rural areas have long been abandoned.According to the minister, the various traditional rulers and leaders of thought in various communities across the country would be involved in the sensitisation efforts of the ministry towards revamping the rural economies and encourage increased agricultural production. He urged all these community and traditional rulers to contribute positively in supporting the rural transformation aspect of the government's agenda.The minister's statement on Wednesday was a follow-up to President Jonathan's budget speech which stated that 'the agricultural sector is being totally transformed to enable us move from traditional farming to modern agriculture as a business both for our small and large-scale farmers. Our objective is to ensure food security whilst also promoting exports in agriculture value chains where we have a comparative advantage. We intend to process and add value to different crops such as rice, cassava, sorghum, oil palm, cocoa, cotton, etc.'This approach, President Jonathan observed, 'is central to our transformation strategy. Accordingly, this administration has adopted enabling measures to support the development of private sector-driven marketing institutions, and push for policies that would promote our agriculture to create jobs.'To unleash the potential of this sector, Jonathan added, 'the Federal Ministry of Finance has put in place a mechanism to share risks with the banking sector by guaranteeing 70% of the principal of all loans made for supply of seeds and fertiliser by the private sector this season. In addition, to get the inputs to farmers at an affordable cost, we are subsidising the interest rate on these loans to bring it down from 15 per cent to seven per cent per annum. The Minister of Agriculture and the Central Bank are collaborating to extend these services for credit availability for the medium term.'Further fiscal policy measures to support the development of the agricultural sector, the president indicated, will include 'the duty on machinery and certain specified equipment for the sector' and 'will, effective January 31st 2012, attract zero duty. We will further look at supportive fiscal policies for the rice and wheat sectors to stimulate domestic production.''From July 1st 2012, wheat flour will attract a levy of 65 per cent to bring the effective duty to 100 per cent, while wheat grain will attract a 15 per cent levy which will bring the effective duty to 20 per cent.' Similarly, there will be a levy of 25 per cent on brown rice to bring it to 30 per cent. In addition, to encourage domestic rice production, a levy of 40 per cent will be placed on imported polished rice leading to an effective duty rate of 50 per cent. Effective December 31st 2012, all rice millers should move towards domestic production and milling of rice, as the levy of 50 per cent will be further raised to 100 per cent.' He was unequivocal that 'no waivers or concessions will be entertained for rice and wheat importation.
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