The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh said that Nigeria have depended heavily on importation of common food stuffs which could be cultivated on the country’s soil, and aggravating the devaluation of naira.
He added that businessmen demand about 2.5 billion dollars (equivalent of N492 billion) a week for importation of goods and services into the country.
During a meeting on Wednesday, September 14, in Abuja, with officials of VICAMPRO, an indigenous Agro Company investing in production of Irish Potato, Chief Ogbeh said that the ministry was willing to support local investors with capacity to produce goods and save the country’s foreign exchange.
He observed that the consumption of rice in the country was rising and that a lot of people were not aware that the rice had some degree of arsenic, adding that substituting it with potato would be welcomed development.
“The volume of importation of virtually everything into this country is too much.
“The demand for dollars in this country as at today is 2.5 billion a week; this is the quantum of dollars Nigerians are asking for to import things.
“Since 1986, we began this habit of importing everything and doing virtually nothing at home to sustain ourselves; now, we do not have the dollars and people are very hungry.
“This day was coming anyway, no matter who was in power; we have the most ridiculous method of devaluing our currency; every week, we auction the dollar and naira goes up.
“We sat and were hoping that by devaluation, we are going to arrive at Eldorado; if we continue like this, it will be a thousand naira to a dollar.”
The minister commended the investor and reiterated that any private sector’s effort that would develop local production of goods would be fully supported by the ministry. He suggested that Nigeria must aggressively take the West African market.
“There is no reason why we should allow Irish potato from Ireland and France and Belgium into West Africa; it is the same story with onions.”
Chief Executive Officer of VICAMPRO, Mr. Michael Agbogo, also spoke at the meeting and he said that potato could bring value worth over one trillion naira annually if properly harnessed. In his assessment, a 14 kilogrammes of potatoes, which the fourth most important crop in the world, is equivalent to a barrel of oil.
He explained that while the current price of crude oil will fetch the country about N16,000 per barrel, the equivalent in potato will fetch the country N39,000, hence in terms of value, potato had three times the value of crude oil, marking the crop as a potential industry industry for Nigeria to invest in.
Agbogo noted that the country has a greater under-utilized advantage over countries like Egypt and Algeria which are the leading potato producing countries in Africa, with Egypt producing four million tonnes annually from about 100,000 hectares of land. While Nigeria which had close to 500,000 hectares, was struggling to produce one million tonnes of potato per annum.