The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said on Wednesday that the country would require $2.5bn weekly to satisfy the demands of businessmen who import items into the country.
The minister revealed this in Abuja during a meeting with officials of VICAMPRO, an agro company with interest in the production of Irish potato.
His words, “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,’’ he said.
Ogbeh, who expressed the readiness of his ministry to support local investors with capacity to produce goods and save the country’s foreign exchange, was concerned about the volume of rice consumed in the country.
According to him, regular consumption of large quantity of rice was risky, saying substituting it with potato would be a welcomed development.
While commending the company, the minister said that any private sector effort that would develop local production of goods would be fully supported by the ministry.
“We should aggressively take the West African market; there is no reason why we should allow Irish potato from Ireland, France and Belgium into West Africa; it is the same story with onions.
“Under ECOWAS, at the level of government, we are going to push for the greater part of the market for local investors,’’ he stated.
He urged VICAMPRO to process potato for use in hotels, pointing out that hotels in Nigeria imported processed potato from South Africa.
In his speech, the Chief Executive Officer of VICAMPRO, Mr Michael Agbogo, said that potato could bring value worth over one trillion naira annually given the right environment, adding that potato was the fourth most important crop in the world.
According to him, a barrel of oil was an equivalent of 14 kilogrammes of potatoes.
He added that while current price of crude oil would earn the country about N16,000 per barrel, the equivalent in potato would fetch the country N39,000.
The VICAMPRO boss lamented that while Egypt that had only about 100,000 hectares of land was producing four million tonnes annually, Nigeria, which had close to 500,000 hectares, was struggling to produce one million tonnes of potato per annum.
While calling for the support of the government, Agbogo described potato as a ‘unique crop’ that could be cultivated throughout the year in many states of the country.