Monday, July 08, 2013

Shale Oil: We Must Diversify Economy Now - Jonathan

By Isaac Aimurie and George Agba
Leadership, Tuesday, July 9, 2013
For the first time, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday admitted that the discovery of shale oil across the world posed challenges to Nigeria’s economic fortune and called for urgent diversification of the economy from crude oil and broadening of the country’s agriculture base.
Speaking at the opening of a two-day summit organised by the Rockefeller Foundation with the theme, “Realising the Potential of African Agriculture”, Jonathan said: “The transformation of agriculture in Nigeria is a centre piece of the economic transformation agenda of my government. Nigeria is known for oil. But today, many countries around the world have found oil. The recent discovery of shale oil and gas means that we can no longer depend on oil to drive the economy.”
He maintained that “with abundant land and water resources, and an abundant vibrant labour force, Nigeria has all it takes to use agriculture as its new frontier for growth.”
The president disclosed that Nigeria’s agriculture sector has attracted more than N80 billion private sector commitments in the last one year and explained that government programmes have been tailored toward making agriculture attractive to the private sector as a viable business.
“To drive our agriculture, we have ended the approach of agriculture as a development programme; we now take agriculture as a business. Private sector investments are expanding rapidly from sales by fertilizer companies, agriculture processors.
“In the last one year alone, over N80 billion of private sector commitments have been made to the agricultural sector. We developed staple crops processing zones to attract the private sector to invest in rural areas to process and add value to all of our crops.
This will reduce post-harvest losses and create jobs for our people,” he said.
Jonathan hinted further that over 1.5 million farmers have benefitted from the Electronic-Wallet System developed by the administration, which allows farmers to receive electronic voucher to redeem subsidised fertilisers, improved seeds and other farm inputs directly from private sector seeds and fertilizer companies.
“I am pleased to know that Nigeria is the first country to develop such scheme in Africa. Farmers now receive their seeds and fertilizer via mobile phones in the first one year of this experiment and we ended four decades of corruption in our fertilizer sector,” he said.
The president noted that, with Nigeria as the world largest producer of cassava, his administration’s desire is to make the country become the world largest processor of cassava.
He added that, in a bid to cut down import of wheat, the administration embarked on a major innovation to use high-quality cassava flour to replace some of the imported wheat flour.
Jonathan said, “Today, cassava bread made out of composite flour from 20 per cent cassava and wheat flour has hit our markets. This alone has saved Nigeria N254 billion (about 1.5 billion dollars) in import bills on wheat,’’ he said. “There is no reason why Nigeria should be a net food importing country; it should be a net food exporting country. This is true because the size of the country is big and the ecological zones are diverse.”
The president noted that it was an honour for the foundation to choose Nigeria to host the special occasion.
He recalled that the foundation had helped to build the structure of the nation’s premier university, the University of Ibadan, in the 1960s, particularly the agriculture and medicine departments.
President of Rockefeller Foundation Dr Judith Robin, who commended Jonathan’s administration’s programmes at transforming the agricultural sector, predicted that the future of Africa depended on new innovation framework and financing strategy in transforming the agriculture sector.
As parts of the activities in transforming agriculture in Africa, Robin said, the foundation established the African Agricultural Fund in 2006 for small and medium scale.
She said the foundation also provided 1 million dollars (about N160 million) in funding for the Africa Fertiliser Summit which led to the historic Abuja Declaration also in 2006.
The foundation, according to her, also co-funded the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to improve agriculture.
The summit which is part of the drawn-up programmes for the centennial celebration of the foundation was attended by stakeholders across Africa.
Some other prominent persons at the event are the prime minister of Togo, Kwesi Ahoomey-Zunu; ministers Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (finance), Dr Akinwumi Adeshina (agriculture) as well as the ministers of finance and agriculture from about 20 African countries.
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