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Agriculture key priority to diversify economy

Interview - April 15, 2015

Minister Mitogo Mitogo Ada tells us about the agriculture sector’s potential, its importance for  EG’s development into an emerging country and the opportunities that exist within it

ALFREDO MITOGO MITOGO ADA, FORMER MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE AND FORESTS
ALFREDO MITOGO MITOGO ADA | FORMER MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE

What challenges must Equatorial Guinea overcome in order to fulfill its goal of being an emerging country by 2020?

There are still great challenges given that this period, which comprises from 2013 until 2020, is the most decisive one for our emergence as we are, among other things, trying for our country to be efficient at a market level and self-sufficient at an educational one. When we talk about an emergence we do not expect to achieve it without a basis that can support it. We believe that for the sustainability of an emergence you need to train qualified people so that after achieving it you can sustain it and consolidate it. That is at least one of the goals the government has at the productive sector level and through this ministry.

To achieve the diversification Equatorial Guinea is pursuing, one of the critical sectors is the agriculture one. What plans does your ministry have to collaborate in this respect?

After initiating the phase of economic diversification the government, at the beginning of last year, organized an economic forum. We invited large world-wide investors so they could come consider Equatorial Guinea in this macro program in regards to the “Plan Horizonte 2020”.  When we invite investors to the country we do not do it to just stay there with our arms crossed waiting for them to come invest. In fact, through this forum Equatorial Guinea created its first co-investment and holding account, which reaches around 2 billion American dollars. This means that an investor who may have an interest collaborating in Guinea can bring his idea and start a company of mixed capital so that both parts can lead the management: the first part, which would be big investors, contribute with money, knowledge and high technology, which they can start transferring to us. In our sector, to pursue the rise there are agricultural systems that we must employ and so far we have been specialized in a shifting cultivation system which does not enable us to achieve the goal from now to 2020. That is why we invite the big companies to come invest in the farming sector, especially in the private sector.

When I speak about new technologies, it is implied that in industrial agriculture we will have to start using the mechanized system because otherwise it will not be possible to reach the production level the country wants. Besides the level of production we are thinking about obtaining a quality production. We are trying to achieve high quality in our national products because we think that it can provide us what we want and even what we did not expect to achieve at a world level. To sum up, this is one of the features we are using to reach the goal from now to 2020. 

In the Symposium for Economic Diversification you worked on several agreements, one valued at 400 million dollars, for the production in the agricultural sector, which will create around two thousand jobs. What does this say about the confidence of the international investor in the agricultural sector of Equatorial Guinea?

Yes, we indeed signed around eight memorandums of understanding. We have been in touch we these companies and to be honest we have not had a positive answer whatsoever. The majority expects the government of Equatorial Guinea to fully cover the project financing. We are a country with few inhabitants but by taking advantage of our land, which is 100% fertile, and our good climatic conditions we can achieve a higher production of incomparable quality. The question we wonder is, why not elaborate a commercialization plan? This way there is somewhere to take the market surplus and transform it; most companies do not work towards that. Therefore, the initiative of the government does not change, we are still there, but we are not waiting with our arms crossed given that with the productive sector we have we are now more than ever pushing to achieve strong, high quality production.

The production we have is based on shifting cultivation, which does not enable the country’s self-sufficiency. Then we have other aspects such as transportation, where we need to perform some studies; with the projects that we run ourselves at an internal level or through a businessman who comes to collaborate with us we can really demonstrate to our people that we are doing a great work. What happens is that the majority of the population is not devoting itself to agriculture. That is also another phase we are working on: we are making them aware so they know what we can do and that our basis is there. If kids are not fed they cannot go to class; if the public servant does not eat, he cannot work well. That is what we are trying to make them aware. Those who finish in our schools must know that they should not stay just in the main cities, they are mostly country people and they should be there training those that live in different rural areas. The way we are thinking is that agriculture is a culture, and what do you do with a culture? You previously assimilate it so then you can put it in practice. This way we think we can reach the goals from now to 2020.

Your Nigerian counterpart has stated that his country is going to make agriculture the new oil. What do you think you could learn from your neighbors in Nigeria?

I spoke with the Nigerian minister not long ago in the last conference of governors and we exchanged a lot. The Ministry of Economy must also intervene to raise awareness among different commercial and banking institutions that work in Equatorial Guinea so that each of them opens a space and a capital destined for the agriculture sector. What do we want to achieve with this? The final goal is to transform associations into small companies and farmers into businessmen. With that we think we can achieve a higher level, based on this experience we can take from our Nigerian colleague.

Which investment opportunities would you like to highlight in order to increase production and add value to your products?

Equatorial Guinea is a country in which the sector faces no risk whatsoever. First there is the livestock sector: in other countries there are large epidemics, such as the porcine African plague, but in our country there are no epidemics like that. For the construction of vessels the material is cheap and the climate very favorable, but in any corner of Equatorial Guinea you can work in agricultural activity, livestock raising, poultry farming and even the raising of different species. We have abundant water; for example, in the continental area there is a big river going from north to south, so any investor than wants to invest here can take advantage of this resource among so many others that we possess.

Those who come invest here should consider that we are not going to admit the use of transgenic products, given that we have good land. In other countries, in order to work in agriculture you must comply with the laws of land possession. Guinea even offers lands for its exploitation. Furthermore, the government offers the option to create companies of mixed capital in order to guarantee foreign investment. I think this is an excellent facility that we are offering to businessmen around the world. I think Equatorial Guinea should be one of the countries that investors consider. We are welcoming investors to visit Equatorial Guinea, to make an exploration trip and live the reality of Equatorial Guinea on the ground.

Which achievements would you highlight in your time as Ministry of Agriculture and Forests?

The ministry is very complex and ample as it encompasses very complicated sectors. If we begin with the forest sector, the biggest achievement – apart from the revision of the legal framework, which had been revised for the last time in 1987 and has just been updated – is that our wood, as in the majority of the countries of the CEMAC (Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa), did not enter the European Union and we have just achieved that through the creation of a section of forest governance. We have worked a lot with various experts and we are now issuing certificates of origin and legality; we think this is an achievement.

Regarding the agricultural sector, we are training around 100 young people for each training cycle in the different specializations of the agricultural sector. We have also reformed the system to create associations as they lacked a legal instrument through which they could eventually set up cooperatives. Then we have several projects which we do not need to mention in advance. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests is also working with the IFAD and the FAO. Now we have a FAO bureau and a representative like Gabon and other African countries. This is also a big achievement in my opinion.

You have mentioned the wood industry. Guinean wood is very coveted is was exported to Europe and Asia among other places. What could be done to increase exports of this wood to the United States?

What could be done is the same that businessmen who take wood to Europe or Asia do, although now we do not allow round wood to be exported 100%. According to the forestry framework in force, 60% goes to internal transformation and the rest is exported. Therefore, the businessman, once he arrives and performs the previous formalities, is given what he needs. We do not sell forests, we sign leasing agreements stating that you can exploit it and then this forest is given back to the State once you have finished your operations. Then there is no difficulty in exporting wood from Equatorial Guinea to the Unites States as we think that when wood needs to be taken to the United States the same investor is the one that brings the ship. We only help him ease the operations in our ports. We also have the certificate of origin and legality through which our wood can be sold in any part of the world.

What efforts are you doing to protect the environment?

If there are no forests we cannot talk about the environment. First of all, after reaching a situation of deforestation, a section called Forestry Reforestation was created at the ministry level. The work that this office is doing is to rehabilitate garden centers we have in several areas where each company that gets in must comply with the following rule: cut tree, planted tree. In the moment of doing the forests projections, an inventory of the trees and species is done; from there he goes directly to the garden center, buys the trees and then for each tree that he takes away he must plant another one. This way the environmental problems will not affect us like they do in other places. The personnel of the Ministry of Environment are the ones that have elaborated laws and projects which are very productive.

What is your goal as Minister of Agriculture and Forests?

My final goal is to see my country self-sufficient, that a Guinean eats what he produces and that he is able to produce what he is going to eat afterwards. This is my goal: that any Guinean, from any social status, is able to at least eat what he himself produces; if I eat tomato, I must know how to cultivate tomato. That is my goal and I think that with the aid of collaborators and the government itself we are going to achieve it.

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