Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has called on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to invest in agriculture, particularly cassava, soybean, cowpea and plantain to help Africa cut down annual food import estimated at $50 billion.
Godwin Atser, Digital Extension and Advisory Services Specialist, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), made this known in a statement made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Thursday in Abuja.
The statement said Mr Obasanjo spoke during the official inauguration of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Kalambo Research Station in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by the country’s President, Felix Tshisekedi.
The research station is known as “The President Olusegun Obasanjo Research Station”, in honor of the ex-President who is also the IITA Goodwill Ambassador.
Mr Obasanjo, while giving a shop list of crops to invest in, said “the first crop to take is cassava, the second crop is soybean because it is very important for human nutrition and livestock.
“The next is cowpea and lastly plantain. If we invest in these crops, we will be able to reduce the 50billion dollars that Africa is spending annually on importing food,” Mr Obasanjo said.
The former president underlined the importance of research to agricultural transformation, citing the Nigerian example where his administration was able to raise cassava production by 20 million tonnes during his eight year-tenure.
He commended IITA Director General, Nteranya Sanginga, for his leadership and the institute for its excellent research in addressing the problems facing Africa.
The IITA ambassador congratulated Mr Tshisekedi for providing the enabling environment and support to IITA to establish the centre, stating that he felt deeply honoured to be part of it.
At the inauguration were the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB); Akinwumi Adesina; Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde and the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, among others.
Mr Sanginga said that the research station was in dedication to IITA and its partners’ mission of fighting hunger and poverty in Africa and would contribute toward boosting agricultural productivity in DR Congo and the region.
“The station is a symbol of our dedication and commitment to building the research and development capacity in DR Congo and the Great Lakes,” he said.
He reiterated the importance of research to agricultural transformation and cited the progress made by Nigeria in cassava to the role of research innovations developed by IITA and its partners.
The IITA Director for the Central African Region, Bernard Vanlauwe said that the lab building was built in record time using modern methods and materials.
“Indeed, the first stone was placed in Oct. 2017 and the building completed in 18 months. This speed and efficiency symbolise the nature of the activities taking place in the lab.
“They are the rapid and large-scale production of healthy planting materials of crops of key importance to the DRC as well as the production of bio-fertilisers to ensure the growth and quality of these crops.’’
Mr Atser said for many years, the station in Kalambo operated in project mode but in 2011, the IITA Board of Trustees decided to elevate it to become the focal point of the Institute’s regional hub for natural resource management in the Great Lakes.
“It now also features a first-class tissue culture lab for the vegetative multiplication of cassava, banana, coffee, yam, and potato,’’ Mr Aster was quoted as saying in the statement.