The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development, (FMARD), Dr. Ernest Umakhihe has stated that the inauguration of the Technical Working Group of the African Continental Free Trade Area ( AfCFTA) for the Agriculture and Agribusiness workstream would promote made in Africa Goods and Services. He said that the initiative will create a single continental market as well as reduce tariffs and application of non-tariff barriers to trade among African countries.Dr. Ernest Umakhihe disclosed this during the inauguration of the Technical Working Group (TWG) of AfCFTA at the Ministry’s Conference Room today, Thursday 12th August 2021.

He stated that the AfCFTA agreement would be the largest trade and investment block agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), adding that ‘’these opportunities will boost Intra African trade amongst 1.2 billion people and a cumulative GDP of $3.4 Trillion. Of a particular note, UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) envisages a potential increase in African Trade by 52% in 2022’’. Umakhihe noted that the National Action Committee (NAC) of the AfCFTA was constituted by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari on 20th December 2019, to coordinate inclusive implementation processes for relevant stakeholders to assess the trade readiness and expected interventions.

He informed that ‘’the Hon. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development is a member of the productive Sector Steering Committee for the AfCFTA; impact and readiness study while the Hon. Minister of State is serving on the Steering Committee of the NAC on AfCFTA Champion for Agriculture and I am the team lead for the Agric and Agribusiness Workstream’’. He pledged that as a team lead of TWG, “will provide the necessary support and steer at workstream meetings and other engagement, to coordinate as needed the sectorial implementation imperatives in line with vision and mission of the ministry’’. The Permanent Secretary further said that ‘’ the TWG which is to serve as a task team for the Agricultural sector in the AfCFTA process has become expedient to function as follows: Serve as the focal point for AfCFTA Workstream on Agriculture and Agribusiness in the Ministry, Provide secretariat and relevant input in AfCFTA on matters relating to the Agriculture sector in the AfCFTA process, Coordinate the activities of the various sub-sectors and Value Chains in the Ministry towards achieving the set targets in the context of the AfCFTA implementation imperatives, Advocate, track, update the document and communicate progress and status report on the subject for the ministry, among others’’.

Dr. Umakhihe charged the TWG ‘’ to maintain the highest level of dedication, efficiency and develop strategic initiatives that will ensure seamless implementation of all aspects of the AfCFTA process that concerns the sector especially, as it relates to periodic tracking and data collection on productivity, market access, standards and safety of agricultural products as well as wealth and job creation. In his welcome address, the Director, Planning, and Policy Coordination Department (P&PC), Mr. Abdulahi Zubairu stated that ‘’ the implementation of a common market in the context of the AfCFTA as a trade block will require a great deal of synergy between and amongst stakeholders in the agricultural sector in order to utilize the opportunities presented to drive comparative and competitive advantage’’.Mr. Zubairu added that ‘’ it is in the above contest that a Ministerial TWG was conceived to coordinate all intrinsic and extrinsic issues in the sector along the respective Value Chain. This is a deliberate initiative to track, document with an empirical precision report on progress to guide the sector towards taking its rightful position in the AfCFTA process’’.

Responding on behalf of the TWG, the Chairman of the Group and Deputy Director in the Ministry, Mr. Ibrahim Tanimu promised that the committee would work assiduously to ensure that the Agricultural component of the AfCFTA delivers on its mandates. In an earlier meeting with members of the UNDP-GEF-IAP-FS project, the Permanent Secretary (FMARD), Dr. Ernest Umakhihe informed that the project is aimed at fostering sustainability and resilience for food security in the Savannah Zones of Northern Nigeria in seven States (Benue, Nassarawa, Adamawa, Gombe, Kano, Kastina and Jigawa)’’.He pointed out that ‘’ the project is funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and facilitated by the UNDP and implemented by FMARD and the Federal Ministry of Environment with the objective of enhancing productivity and promotion of sustainability and resilience of the agricultural production’’.In a related event, the Permanent Secretary on behalf of the Minister (FMARD) received in the audience the Ambassador of Argentina to Nigeria, Alejandro Herrero. The minister stressed the need for partnership and collaboration towards capacity building and strengthening agricultural practices in the country.

In his remarks, the Ambassador, His Excellency, Alejandro Herrero said that his country shares similar Agricultural practices with Nigeria especially in the livestock sub-sector, and expressed the importance of Signing the Reversed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to boost the Agriculture sector of both countries.