* Nigeria seeks to cut $11 bln food import bill
* Previous promises on agriculture not been met
* Country on track to end rice imports by 2015-minister
By Emma Farge
GENEVA, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Nigeria is beating its target to raise food production, lifting output by 8 million tonnes last year, in efforts to diversify Africa’s second-largest economy away from a reliance on oil, the agriculture minister said.
President Goodluck Jonathan laid out ambitious targets to raise food production such as rice and cocoa by 20 million tonnes within four years after his 2011 election victory.
This would represent an increase of around 15 percent by 2015, based on the latest United Nations data.
In 2012, the first full year since the pledge, the West African country produced an additional 8.1 million tonnes compared with a 5 million tonne target, Akinwumi Adesina said.
“Nigeria has no business importing food. We should be a global power house on food,” he said at a round-table discussion on agriculture in Geneva this week, ahead of meetings with investors at the Davos conference.
Africa’s most populous nation was a major exporter of palm oil and cocoa in the 1960s but production has slumped as the country has instead shifted its economy towards the oil sector, which accounts for 80 percent of government revenues.
Since an oil boom in the 1970s, a series of administrations have promised to support the agricultural sector to boost employment and alleviate poverty but policy has been inconsistent and lacked commitment.
Poor infrastructure, corruption and mismanagement mean most farming remains at a subsistence level. Nigeria spends around $11 billion on food imports annually, Adesina said.
Nigeria, the world’s second largest rice importer according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is on track to end imports of rice and double cocoa production to 500,000 tonnes by 2015, Adesina added, but gave no specific update on the progress of meeting these targets, which were first set in mid-2011.
“We have launched an aggressive rice production programme to make us self-sufficient in rice and we put in place incentives for private sector to produce rice locally and it’s working,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting.
He said Nigeria had built 14 new rice mills in 2012 with a capacity to produce 250,000 tonnes.
Adesina said private sector investment in agriculture was $8 billion in 2012, without citing a figure for 2011. (Editing by Joe Brock and James Jukwey)