Mr. Emmanuel Atser isa Director with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. He equally served theBenue State government in various capacities first, as Special Adviser to thegovernor on Agriculture and later as founding Executive Secretary, BenueState Lottery Commission. He owns Fort Harvest Farms located in manyplaces across Benue State. In this interview with AUSTINE TULE, in Makurdi, he opened up on why he has taken tofarming and why Nigerians should do the same. Excerpts:
Why you have decided to venture into largescale farming?
Thank you very much.Like you know I am a trained agricultural expert who has been involved in thepractice over time. I am very much in tune with the reality that agricultureremains a major sector that any country the world over that craves for selfsustenance must take seriously. You are all witnesses to the fact that as wespeak, agriculture has taken prominence over every other sector including oil.As we speak, a litre of palm oil in Nigeria is far more expensive than a litreof crude oil which goes a long way in explaining why Nigerians must return tofarming and which also explains why I have decided to venture into it havinggarnered the requisite experience and training as an expert.
You are encouraging Nigerians to go back tofarming which is a noble call but to what level has the Federal Government beenable to assist Nigerians who would wish to heed to your call?
Well, it is not in mypurview to speak for the Federal Government but as a Nigerian and one who hasbeen involved in the practice of agriculture over the years, I will like toappreciate President Muhammedu Buhari over the various avenues he has providedto enable farmers access facilities that would enable them engage in largescale agricultural production.
As we speak, the Bankof Agriculture, the Central Bank through NISAL and Bank of Industry aredistributing loans to farmers in millions at a near zero interest rate and a lotof farmers have accessed these facilities which is greatly enhancing theircapacities in the practice of agriculture and so as an individual, I wish tocommend Mr. President for doing this much with the aim of encouraging localfarmers and the results are already there for anyone to see.
In specific terms, which areas would youencourage Nigerians to prioritize in the practice of agriculture?
You see, apart fromanimal husbandry which can be practice effectively in any part of Nigeria,there are other factors that will not allow for that as regards other aspectsof agriculture for instance, it will be more difficult for a farmer whowishes to engage himself into palm plantation owning to the topography in thefar north which is usually dry just as it will be difficult for a farmer in thesouthern part of Nigeria who wishes to engage himself in the cultivation ofcotton and so by and large, the farmer will first of all need to identify thesefactors with a view to knowing the comparative advantages visa-vis what hewants to cultivate and the location.
For instance, Irishpotatoes yield more in states like Plateau and Adamawa owing to the soiltexture of these places and so a farmer who is residing in Benue going bysurvey ordinarily needs not to venture himself into the cultivation of Irishpotatoes having it at the back of his mind that it will not give him thedesired yields owing to the nature of the soil in Benue which will not allowfor its flourishing.
May we know why you decided to engage in largescale farming of rice and palm plantation?
Like I did say, Benuewhere all my farms are located at the moment has a soil texture that canenhance the production of both rice and palm plantation and so comparatively, Idecided to take the advantage knowing that both will give me the desired yield atthe end of the day. I am also into plantain cultivation as well as cassavabecause both also do well in Benue and so my choice of what to venture into islargely determine on what grows here, and what will give me better yields herein Benue.
Sir, are you saying that agriculture willsustain the nation’s economy over crude oil?
My answer to that question is yes, remember itwas the groundnut pyramid in Kano, the cocoa plantation in the southwest andthe palm kernels in the east that were the mainstay of the Nigeria’s economy upto the period of General Yakubu Gowon’s regime when oil became the mainstay ofNigeria’s economy. It is said that it was agriculture that financed Nigeria’sindependence which is very true, let me inform you that world over, countrieswhich hitherto depended on crude oil as a means of economic survival are fastdiversifying into agriculture and manufacturing as a means of stabilizing theireconomies.
Today, technology is driving us to a levelwhere even automobile will no longer be using petrol and if that happens, howwill you expect Nigeria which depends heavily on crude oil as a revenueearner to survive? So my advice is that we should return back to thefarms. The advantages are tremendous aside from enhancing our economic lives,agriculture assures of food security in our homes and so I wish to appeal againthat we should begin to think outside of the box by returning back to ourfarms.