21 June 2012

Nigeria: Stakeholders Highlight Agricultural Sector Revenue Potentials

Stakeholders recently came together to highlight the crucial importance of government and private investment in agriculture as a potential revenue earner and means of generating employment for millions of unemployed youths in the country.

The role of agriculture in transforming and developing the economy of Nigeria and many more were the highlights at the BusinessDay Agric business and food security summit.

The event, which was supported by British-American Tobacco Nigeria (BATN), had a theme 'Enhancing Agricultural Value-chain for Economic Prosperity', which took place at Victoria Island, Lagos, recently.

Recent studies have shown that around 70 per cent of Nigerians live below $2 per day, in a country blessed with the largest arable land in sub-Saharan Africa.

This natural resource places the country on a vital platform to engender socio-economic development in order to reverse the current trend of importing almost every food item instead of exporting to other nations of the world.

Agriculture is said to have the power of not only providing employment opportunities but also has a potentially strong linkage effect on the rest of the economy as it provides from its pre-season operations to post season operations, engagement for support services for land preparation, seed production, plant breeding, labour, finance, transportation, marketing amongst others.

Therefore, concerted effort should be put in place to develop and use the sector as a platform for attaining economic success especially in identifying certain value chain for each produce and mapping out ways to use maximally the economic advantages derivable to drive growth and prosperity. Stakeholders present at the summit also discussed how the country can go beyond just depending on oil and explore this rich but neglected sector.

In his goodwill message, the Ambassador for Netherlands in Nigeria, His Excellency Arie Van der wiel, stated that the agricultural sector was one of the top ten sectors to be exploited by any country which desires economic growth and development.

He added that his country has a good relationship and co-operation with Nigeria on investment, agriculture, and food production issues by working closely with the Nigerian government and other private bodies on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) programme.

The agreement, he said, had been embarked upon by The Netherlands government at state and federal levels, with farmers, production bodies and civil societies coming together to put resources on how to enhance the sector via training farmers, providing equipment for farming, seeds, fertilisers etc.

This, he said, has made the country number one in the exporting of horticulture and number two in agriculture and food production worldwide.

"Nigeria is a big country that has a huge potential to provide worldwide needs, it therefore needs more improved and sustainable food production facilities and proper soil management in place in order to increase its production output and that is what we intend to bring to Nigeria via this partnership," he added.

THISDAY gathered that some programmes put in place by The Netherlands to enhance the sector are already in progress in Nigeria, one of which is the cassava programme implemented by DATCO, which deals with big mobile processing units and containers.

In this process, the organisation goes to villages in Nigeria to gather and process cassava roots to cassava cakes, which extends the durability of the cassava from 2 days to 2 years, which can be used as cassava flour, glucose production, etc.

Nigeria was formerly one of the highest cocoa producers until the discovery of oil which led to the abandonment and collapse of the cocoa industry in favour of quicker money and a newer resource.

Some major projects embarked upon by The Netherlands include the resuscitation of the cocoa industry via the cocoa programme, which would take 5 years; an investment facility programme where the European country provides subsidy for small PPP in poultry, horticulture, slaughter house etc.

Speaking on the overall cost of these projects, the ambassador revealed that government's investment can be valued at 40 million euros, adding that other private bodies like DATCO, Nigeria Breweries Plc etc have invested more.

As part of its social investment in agriculture, the Executive Director, British-American Tobacco Nigeria, Foundation (BATNF), Mr. Gbenga Ibikunle, disclosed that the foundation has taken a step in the right direction by investing in the agricultural sector.

He advised that the positive results and achievements should be copied and replicated by government at all levels, development organisations and the organised private sector operators in order to achieve a broader and wider result for the benefit of our country.

"Our approach is in achieving a value adding and value chain development, and we have succeeded in setting up 14 cottage processing industries for cassava and palm oil processing in 11 states in the country since our nine years of existence.

"This has trickle-down effects in areas of promoting indigenous agricultural equipment fabrication, seed and seedlings production enterprise as well as providing indirectly, access to clean water and opportunities to establish businesses," he added.

Ibikunle spoke on the agricultural technology transfer and capacity building which involves the introduction of new and improved agricultural technologies.

According to him, this is adaptable and easily adopted and also involves the provision of improved agro-inputs, technical trainings, storage, and market intelligence.

In the BATNF programme, farmers are grouped and trained on an on-farm field with distributed inputs and cost. Upon harvesting and marketing, the benefitting farmers pool their earnings together in a group bank account in preparation for the next season. This is repeated over a period of 3 farming seasons, after which most of the farmers will have enough resources to start up a project of their own.

"This approach has been carried out successfully in Ago-Are community in Oyo state, Jima community in Niger state, Onunwakpu-Igbeagu in Ebonyi state while projects in Zango-ayo community in Kaduna state, Kamba and Zagga communities in Kebbi states are on-going," Ibikunle explained.

In enhancing and further engendering capacity building in the sector, BATNF had partnered with various agricultural research institutes, agencies, and organisations some of which include the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, and the National Cereals Research Institute in Badeggi among others.

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