By Chidinma Ewunonu-Aluko
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 imports estimated at $50billion.
A statement by Mr Godwin Atser, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Digital Extension and Rural Advisory Services Specialist, said Obasanjo made the call on Tuesday.
The forum was the official inauguration of IITA Kalambo research station in Bukavu, DRC, by the country’s President, Felix Tshisekedi.
The statement issued on Thursday in Ibadan said the research station was named Olusegun Obasanjo Research Station in honour of the former president, an IITA Goodwill Ambassador.
Obasanjo, according to the statement, emphasised that if Africa could invest in these crops, the continent would be able to reduce the $50billion that was being spent annually on importing food.
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 Dr Nteranya Sanginga, the IITA Director General, for his leadership, and the institute for its excellent research in addressing the problems facing Africa.
The IITA ambassador congratulated Tshisekedi for providing the enabling environment and support to IITA to establish the centre, adding that he felt deeply honoured to be part of it.
The statement also quoted Sanginga as saying that the research station was in dedication to IITA and its partners’ mission of fighting hunger and poverty in Africa.
He added that it 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.
Also speaking, the IITA Director for the Central African Region, Dr Bernard Vanlauwe, said that the lab building was built in record time using modern methods and materials.
“Indeed, the first stone was placed in October 2017 and the building completed in 18 months.
“This speed and efficiency symbolise the nature of the activities taking place in the lab, namely 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,” he said.
According to the statement, the station in Kalambo for many years operated in project mode.
He said the IITA Board of Trustees in 2011, however, decided to elevate it to become the focal point of the institute’s regional hub for natural resource management in the Great Lakes.
The station, he said, now features a first-class tissue culture lab for the vegetative multiplication of cassava, banana, coffee, yam, and potato.
At the inauguration were Dr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, Gov. Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, among others.