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Nigeria announces an ambitious plan to revolutionize food production - 2002-08-09

Nigeria's Ministry of Agriculture says some three thousand earth dams will be built across the country with the help of Chinese experts. It's estimated that the project will cost twenty million dollars and will take four years to complete. The dams are expected to help Nigeria meet its requirements for food and water.

The Minister of Agriculture Adamu Bello says three or four dams will be constructed in each of the country’s 774 local government areas. Some 500 Chinese experts who will also train Nigerians on the job are due to start arriving by October. Part-time farmer Biola Lawal believes it will boost food production in this country of over 110 million people. "Over the years we’ve always been paying lip service to the development of agriculture in the real sense, but with this kind of measure" he says, "if they can faithfully execute it, I think it will solve our food problem and reduce unemployment."

Although Nigeria has immense expanse of arable land, agriculture has suffered past neglect as a result of over-dependence on crude oil. According to experts, this has encouraged massive importation of food, which is now depleting the country’s treasury.

The government says the dams, on completion should raise Nigeria’s gross domestic product substantially. Besides, social commentators like Dele Bodunde say the resultant increase in food production should force down prices of foodstuff throughout the country. Mr. Bodunde also welcomes the choice of Chinese technicians, saying Nigerians can learn from them about how they are successfully feeding over one billion people. "The Chinese and Israelis are the best in irrigation farming they have the know-how, experience, they can turn the desert to an arable land."

Mr. Bodunde also says it may help reduce friction between farmers and cattle rearers, which has the potential of turning into ethnic violence. "if there is water they don’t have to leave their environment."

As beautiful as it appears on paper, some observers are worried that the project may be abandoned midway like others unfinished dam projects in the country. To prevent this from happening, Agriculture Minister Adamu Bello says the three tiers of government will be involved in varying degrees. While the local councils will provide accommodation for the Chinese expatriates, State governments will pay their monthly stipend.

The federal government has responsibility for much of the 20 million dollar cost. But it will have some support from the Chinese government and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.