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New agric minister must hit the ground running with $1.1bn Green Imperative Fund

• Head of Nigeria’s biggest indigenous tractor company says nation must launch agric mechanization scheme, now • Says mechanization sure to double Nigeria’s GDP

Nigeria’s next minister of agriculture has been advised to hit the ground running so Nigeria does not miss out on the $1.1billion Green Imperative Fund (GIF) that has been waiting for over seven years due to slow or inaction.

Ibifiri Bobmanuel, head of Bob Track Tractor Nigeria Limited, said to be Nigeria’s leading indigenous tractor manufacturing company, told BusinessDay in an exclusive interview in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, that the minister must not fail to kick-start the much-awaited agric mechanization to boost the economy.

Bobmanuel, who is president of the Rivers Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum (REIF, the group behind the multi-billion naira dry dock project in Peterside (Bonny) expected to service nlg tankers mostly from the NLNG), said agric mechanization is waiting to double Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Speaking at the assembly plant of the company, the investor and top entrepreneur with huge interests in construction, oil/gas, and agric equipment manufacturing said he is not in a position to say if it is true that President Buhammadu Buhari is displeased over the failure of the $1.1billion tractor/implements deal with Brazil to start.

Nigeria’s agri minister

He however remarked that the deal was negotiated soon before Buhari came to power, and that going by his passion for agriculture and local production, hopes were high that the scheme expected to pump 10,000 tractors into Nigeria’s agric mechanization space was sure to start off fast. He regretted that six years down the line, any president would be worried that nothing has happened and that no single tractor has entered Nigeria in that scheme.

Bobmanuel said the initial 10,000 tractors would have jump-started what he called a tractorisation scheme in the agric mechanization space that would make agric very attractive to young graduates and also boost food supply and food export.

Read Also: FG to partner farmers’ cooperatives to boost food production, agric-business

He said; “Imagine the impact the nation’s agric mechanization space would have enjoyed by now. The kick-off of the scheme kept shifting. The National Assembly even had to give a go ahead to it but I won’t know why it has still not kicked off. If the NASS and the presidents of both countries have endorsed it, then the new minister should just fly with it.”

He advised a new agric minister not to think of starting a new programme which may also take many years to start but to launch a tractorisation scheme and kick-off agric mechanization in Nigeria.

“The only quick fix for him is massive deployment of tractors and to start the Green Imperative. By this singular move, he would have injected $1.1billion into the mechanization space in Nigeria and the FG is not going to spend a kobo on it.”

The CEO said the fund is almost a grant to Nigerian farmers which they would refund through bumper harvests that would come from the scheme. “It’s a win-win for the farmers, the FG, and the manufacturers. The minister simply needs to work in synergy with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Ministry of Finance to find a way around agric mechanization. How much mechanization that the minister could put into fruition would determine how well he would have performed in office.”

He observed that if in the GDP spreadsheet of Nigeria, Agric contributes as high as 24 per cent, the third highest after services (46%) and Industry (28%), then mechanized agric would do three times more than that.

Many experts say agric plays huge part in the performances posted by the top two; industry and services. “If that is so without mechanization, and this is the quick-fix to your problem, imagine how much leap the GDP would lift if 10,000 tractors are pumped into the space. That is why the next agric minister should strike now.”

He said the foreign partners were ready with their funding, adding that the incoming 10,000 tractors would however be a drop in the ocean in a country of over 200m people. “The Minister should engage indigenous tractor manufacturers and ask them the number of tractors/implements each can produce right away.”

On insecurity and farming at the moment, Bobmanuel said: “What the next minister needs to do in this aspect is to highlight those areas of the country that do not have too much insecurity problem and use them as pilot stage to launch the mechanization scheme. Reliable local manufacturers can be asked to produce 1000 tractors each to be sent to certain agric belts that are not exposed to high insecurity. This would immediately impact the GDP. The land is there, the know-how is there, and the market is readily available. The only thing not available is mechanization. If he can do this, he would have hit on the nail of success. It’s an achievement waiting to pick up.’

On how southern parts of the country would participate in the scheme because of their small-holder farm system, the expert advised the new minister to map the country and start from agric belts that are not prone to high insecurity.

“Such areas are in the south. The east does small-holder farming and this can be upscaled. The South-south is oil palm zone. The West has a lot of potentials around cocoa and rubber. The Middle belt is still farmable, not very volatile. There are areas in the north that are good for farming. The minister can map out areas and start pilot stage. He can partner with tractor manufacturers to provide mechanization.”

He suggested that there should be milestones and tasks. “We will give ourselves 12 months. You will see the amount of harvest and more people to be engaged.”

He said solving Nigeria’s problems is not rocket science. “We can narrow ourselves to some problems and solve them. If he can sit down with his staff in the Ministry and work out a mechanization scheme. Our group can provide a blueprint for 12 months work plan. It is doable. He should not think he does not have enough time because he can do a lot in 12 months.”

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