Simon Utebor, Yenagoa
President Muhammadu Buhari has appealed to the people of the Niger Delta to embrace peace and focus on agriculture for sustainable economic development and wealth creation.
Buhari urged them to take advantage of the huge potential in agriculture and stop the destruction of oil and gas pipelines which only served to destroy the country’s ecosystem and economy.
The President, represented by the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, made the appeal on Saturday at the 20th anniversary of the Nigerian Agip Oil Company’s Green River Project Farmers’ Day in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital.
Buhari said, “I wish to acknowledge the unrelenting efforts of the Nigerian Agip Oil Company, which, in its bid to prove that oil production and agriculture can coexist, has for the past 29 years supported its host communities to focus on agriculture through the GRP, a corporate social responsibility initiative, which has resulted in sustainable development in these communities.
“I appeal to the people of the Niger Delta region to embrace peace and focus on agriculture for sustainable economic development and wealth creation.
“I urge you to take advantage of the huge potential in agriculture and stop the destruction of oil and gas pipelines, which only serve to destroy our ecosystem and economy.
“The present administration is committed to doing everything possible to support the people of the Niger Delta to achieve their potential in agriculture, which is far more than its endowments in oil and gas.”
The occasion, with the theme, ‘Sustainable Farming for Sustainability’, had in attendance representatives of governors of Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta and Imo states; Chairman, Agip, Mr. U. Carrara; and the Vice Chairman and Managing Director, Agip, Massimo Insulla.
Others are General Manager, District, Marco Rotondi; former military Governor of the old Rivers State, Alfred Diete-Spiff; Vice-Chancellor, Niger Delta University, Prof. Humphrey Ogoni; and a leader of the Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide, Mr. Elvis Donkemezuo, among others.
Buhari said the focus of his administration was to redirect attention to agriculture and empower Nigerians in a productive and sustainable manner.
He said the process entailed treating agriculture as a business to create wealth and provide employment and take the country from being an import-dependent country to a self-sufficient nation with surplus for export to earn foreign exchange.
The President noted that Nigeria spent an average of $22bn annually on wheat, rice, sugar and fish importation.
Buhari said Nigeria had an estimated 84 million hectares of arable land with an estimated 10 per cent only being optimally utilised.
He said there was an abundance of land available for cultivation to meet the demand of about 170 million consumers in the domestic market and the entire West African sub-region.
The President noted that Agip, as part of its GRP, was supporting some farmers with processing facilities such as cassava, rice and oil palm mills, noting that they were significant as post-harvest losses were estimated to be about $9bn annually.
He said the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development was also procuring sundry processing equipment for farmers across the country.
The President encouraged the host states to collaborate with the ministry to make agriculture a key business in Nigeria.
He stressed that the development would curb youths’ restiveness, protect the ecosystem, promote peace and investments and increase revenues in the states