By Nuru Ahmed

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been urged to take up agricultural activities to reduce the import of food staff from abroad. Investing in crops would be able to reduce $50bn that Africa is spending annually on importing food.

These remarks were made on October 8, 2019 by the former president of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. He spoke during the official inauguration of the international Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Kalambo research station in Bukavu.

The ceremony was led by the country’s President, Felix Tshisekedi who also named the new research station after the ex-president, “The President Olusegun Obasanjo Research Station”.

Chief Obasanjo who is also the IITA Goodwill Ambassador urged DRC to invest in agricultural products like cassava, soybean, cowpea and plantain(cooking bananas) so as to help Africa reduce the $50 billion estimated food imports.

Chief Obasanjo said: “If we invest in crops, we will be able to reduce the $50bn that Africa is spending annually on importing food. The first crop to take is cassava; the second crop is soybean because of its importance to human nutrition and livestock. The next is cowpea and lastly plantain.”

The former president marked the significance of research to agricultural renovation giving an example in his eight year administration. Serving Nigeria as the president, he was able to raise cassava production by 20 million tons.

He applauded Dr Nteranya Sanginga, IITA Director General for his leadership and the institute for its excellence research in addressing the problems in Africa.

The IITA ambassador congratulated President Tshisekedi for providing the enabling environment and support to IITA to establish the center. He felt deeply honored to be part of it.

The inauguration was attended by, Dr Akinwumi A. Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB); Oyo State Governor, Eng. Seyi Makinde; and the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn among others.

“The research station is in dedication to IITA and its partners’ mission of fighting hunger and poverty in Africa. It will also contribute towards boosting agricultural productivity in DRC and the region,” said Dr Sanginga.

“The station is a symbol of our dedication and commitment to building the research and development capacity in DRC and the Great Lakes,” he added.

Dr Sanginga restated the benefits of research to agricultural diversification and mentioned the development made by Nigeria in Cassava. The other is the role of research modernizations developed by IITA and its partners.

“The lab structure was built in record time using modern methods and materials,” said Dr Bernard Vanlauwe the IITA Director for the Central African Region.

Dr Vanlauwe explained: “Definitely, the first stone was placed in October 2017 and the building finished in 18 months. This quickness and competence imply the nature of events happening in the lab, specifically rapid large-scale production of healthy planting ingredients of crops of key benefits to DRC, as well as the production of bio-fertilizers to guarantee the advance and value of these crops”.

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.