interviewBy Igho Oyoyo
Ann Adinkwuye is the Managing Director of Ver-Annies Concept Ltd the company pioneering the 1st Abuja Food Festival tagged 'Flavour of Abuja' which is billed for November 30th - December 2nd in Abuja. In this interview with IGHO OYOYO, she speaks on the benefits that the food festival will bring to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) after it has been staged, like eradicating hunger and poverty revealing ways that youths and women can benefit during the food festival.
What is Flavour of Abuja all about?
Flavor of Abuja festival is a food and drink festival where we are actually expecting over 150 exhibitors from within and outside Nigeria to come and participate in a food and drink festival that will bring different countries together in one place to celebrate the beauty of their food and drinks.
What is the motivation behind organizing Abuja food and drinks festival?
Actually, when we started, it was supposed to be like a normal food and drinks exhibition. But as time went on, we realized that there are so much we can give to the public, instead of just organizing a normal festival where people will just come and exhibit what they know how to do. So, the best way we thought of doing it was to involve the small and medium enterprises and also beginners by organizing workshop training for them when the festival kicks off. We also realized that organizing the food and drinks festival, we could gradually eradicate hunger and poverty from the FCT and entire Nigeria as time goes on. That is the reason we have decided to organize the festival.
Why food and drink festival and not skills acquisition to empower the youths and women of Abuja?
We chose food and drink a because they are very essential products that people cannot do without and Nigeria is blessed with so much of food and drinks that many people, including Nigerians, do not know about because of the different ethnic groups, cultures and traditions that we have in this country. We believe that if we organize a food and drink festival, it will project our Nigerian foods and recipes and many Nigerians will come to know the different types of foods we have in Nigeria, and it will be a way of giving back to the society things that will change their lives for good, things that will make the living of the common people meaningful. We are organizing a festival that at the end of the day, we will get positive impacts in return and encourage unity amongst all Nigerians and even the foreigners we will be hosting.
Is the food and drink festival going to be concentrated on mainly Nigerian foods?
The only way we can project Nigerian foods and drinks is whereby we can showcase it for the world to see and the only way we can do that is to involve foreign investors to be a part of this festival. When they get to understand our foods and recipes and what they do to the body system, they will get involvedby investing in Nigerian foods and recipes, which will help improve our agricultural sector. You know, for instance, the Americans have a lot of foods that they export to other countries, because of their good soil and mechanisms to grow those crops. That is the same thing here in Nigeria. We have massive acres of land and we grow a lot of food crops, mostly in the northern parts of Nigeria. So, if these foreigners come to Nigeria and see that we have good crops that are planted and harvested here, all we just need is the projection to make them better by adding special processing and repackaging that will attract foreign investors to invest in them.
Nigerians have this belief that the measure of support you can get will ensure the success of your aspiration. Do you have supporters that will make this festival a reality?
We have a Venezuelan woman, Mrs. Nicol Ohams. She is the Managing Director, Softland Global Limited, she's coming to be part of this great venture, because she has been organizing festivals outside the country, especially in Trinidad and Tobago and also in Venezuela. She is interested in Nigerian foods and recipes and she wants to be fully part of it. Also, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is partnering with us. They have given us their endorsement and they are backing us fully in this food and drink festival.
What role is NAFDAC going to play in the food festival?
Like I said earlier, food is very essential and people cannot do without it and NAFDAC has a very important role to play because it has to do with food. Most foods are already processed and packaged and with the partnership with NAFDAC, it will be ensured that whatever will be exhibited during the food and drink festival are based on the standard provision of the agency. It is a way to kick against fake drugs and substandard food and drinks, also to discourage people who are and going contrary to NAFDAC endorsement. There are many products in the market today, like drinks and water that does not have NAFDAC endorsement and they end up poisoning innocent Nigerians without anybody being able to track the source of poison. But, with the partnership with NAFDAC in this 1st Abuja food and drink festival, we are confident that everything which will be exhibited, both local and foreign will be according to NAFDAC provisions.
Are you partnering with the Federal Capital Territory (FCT)?
Yes, we are partnering with the FCT administration; they have agreed to come in by helping us get to the Nigerian farmers, especially the ones in the northern parts. That is the only way for now. They have agreed to come in, because it will be easier if we go through them to the farms and if they get them, they will have a presentation to explain more on northern Nigerian foods to people who are not residing in northern Nigeria, because that is what the festival is all about.
What are the responses you have been getting from your proposed sponsors?
Nigerians are still trying to get to that extent when they will know that supporting festivals like this and also exhibiting their products will help uplift and elevate the company by showing the brand to people to understand. It is not all about you coming to exhibit and you are trying to make your money back completely, it is mainly a way to let people know more about what you have to offer the public, because those who do not know you or your products before will get to know you and this will increase your patronage. The media is also going to project the exhibitors and that helps to grow businesses. Thereby, you get to understand and know your competitors in the market and also make necessary correction in those things that you are not doing right. All these can come by just participating in a festival like this with little amount to exhibit your stuff in a particular store, which most Nigerians do not understand.
How are the youths in Abuja going to benefit from this festival?
There are many unemployed youths out there scouting for jobs and we all know that the jobs are not really there for them. So, instead of them sitting at home doing nothing, they can use that time to come to the festival to learn ways of using Nigerian foods to do serious businesses, to learn the basis of processing and repackaging of food. These are some of the trainings we are going to provide for the unemployed youths who will participate in the festival. Because we do not have much time and facilities to cover long time training, we will introduce them to the feelings of starting up a foods business with ease. Imagine the number of employments that will become a reality if our youths start small-scale food businesses, with little money they can afford to repackage Nigerian recipes. For example, there are people who have started repackaging crayfish and it makes it look presentable that anybody who sees it will want to buy it. So, by the time they come and learn how to go about it, with little money, we would have achieved our desired goal. When they leave the festival and go into the market to start these food businesses, before they know it, they will expand gradually and need more hands, which will lead to employing other hands. From there, the issue of unemployment will gradually fizzle out and poverty will gradually become a thing of the past in Abuja and the entire Nigeria, because people are making money out of what they have been taught to do. So, it will be a great opportunity for them to come and learn how to make money in the food and drinks sector.
Who are your targets?
Everybody is our target, the children, the adult and even parents, mostly the children need to be carried along, the children are going to come and learn how to cook different kind of food. There is going to be a documentary that will involve the children and their impression about Nigerian food and their favourite meals. Because, Nigeria is our country and our food is our food, we cannot change it, it is time for us to start projecting it and not concentrating on more of the foreign food that we have here. The adults and youths which are not employed should be volunteers at the festival and we are looking forward to over 100 volunteers to project this food festival in terms of advertisement and publicity, at the end of the day, they will be paid for doing their jobs. That will also assist the youths in terms of casual jobs. Parents will be involved also, because there will be a lecture on nutrition, on how to eat healthy food, not by eating anything that you think is healthy. Because, there are ways you can add different food together and you eat a very balance diet. Even the nursing mothers will be involved on how to give their children nutritional food that will make them very strong and healthy as they grow up. So, everybody must be involved to make this festival a success.
Participants from how many countries are you expecting?
We have met over a hundred Embassies and their responses have been very fantastic. During the festival countdown that we held in October, there were representatives from more than ten Embassies, one of them was the United States of American Embassy and we had a presentation on hunger in Africa which really increase their interests to participate fully in the forth coming Abuja food festival. So far, we have gotten a positive response from American Embassy, Venezuela, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Mexico, Uganda, Ghana, and there are many of them which I cannot mention now. We are also expecting more than ten foreign investors from different parts of the world.
Are these countries going to exhibit their different types of food during the food festival?
Yes. The reason why we decided to go through their embassies is for it to be easier for us to locate where those countries are, because they have their restaurants here in Abuja, but we do not know where they are, because we do not eat their food, but going through the embassies is the best way to get to them. They will be coming to participate fully and while some will be coming just to understand the Nigerian food.
Why did you decide to organize it in Abuja, why not Lagos State that is seen as a business city?
You know that the northern parts of Nigeria have been having different issues with security, which has really chased a lot of foreign investors away. So, we decided to organize this event in Abuja with the impression that after the festival, it will give foreigners a good mindset about Nigeria that even though we are having issue of insecurity, we can still go around and be happy with things that any normal country will do. So, having this international food and drink festival in Abuja, it is going to help in help projecting the country better to the outside world.
How often will this venture hold in Nigeria, is it going to be a long term venture?
I do not believe in short term ventures, I believe in organizing something that will last for a very long time. So far, with the present level that we are in organizing the Flavour of Abuja, I see a very positive sign that it is going to be a long time project that we will move from one State to another, just like the way Trade Fair is organized annually. That is what we are going to do.
What are the challenges that you are experiencing and how many positive response have you been getting that gives you the hope that this festival will be a success?
You know, this is the first time we are organizing something like this and most companies are not willing to support the way we expected them to do, in terms of sponsoring us. So, we are using most of our savings to ensure the success of the festival, which we are convinced, will be very successful. But, also we have been getting good response from Dangote, Dansa and NAFDAC also has been very supportive, by endorsing us and participating fully. Also, Krixtal Lounge has been backing us up, the management has been there for us from day one, and even Nigerian Breweries have provided so much for to ensure that the festival holds. One of our sponsors is Rapido Food, Fibi Sausage roll which is a new product in Nigeria and even some government agencies are given their supports and also some media agencies like The Sun, WAZOBIA and Cool Fm and we are still looking forward to Golden Penny and 7up to be a part of it and we hope we will get their response as time goes on.