Food Security: ‘Nigeria To Enhance Agricultural Value Chain For Economic Prosperity’

HOW prepared is Nigeria to really go “beyond oil,” and take full advantage of the existing potentials in Agriculture?
From its mantra of promoting non-oil exports, to facilitating consumption of cassava bread, government now runs an intensified campaign through the Ministry of Agriculture to diversify the disappointingly oil-based economy, and (more aptly put) return the country to its first love — Agriculture. If, indeed, there will be hope of experiencing economic prosperity, this appears the only path to take. Stakeholders harp on the need to aggregate local and international investment efforts in “agribusiness” to achieve this “transformational” goal. This was re-echoed at the 2012 Businessday Agribusiness Food Security Summit, where the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), BATN Foundation, Notore, Stanbic IBTC, Accenture, and Netherlands Embassy in Nigeria, among others —emphasised greater resolve to align advocacy efforts (in this direction) with those of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Executive Director of the BATN Foundation, Gbenga Ibikunle, who participated (as speaker and panelist) at the Lagos event, specifically stressed the need to enhance the entire Agric value chain for economic prosperity.  The BATN Foundation boss rued what he referred to as the poverty paradox in a country with a “soft green soil” that could easily be harnessed for socio-economic development. Ibikunle’s seminar topic — Enhancing Agricultural Value Chain for Economic Prosperity — derived from the generally accepted hypothesis that, 70 percent (at the least) of Nigeria’s population live below $2 a day, even as unemployment remains generally high. Yet, the country “is blessed with abundant human and natural resources, which, if properly harnessed, would easily transform the country into a global economic giant.” Nigeria, he said, arguably has the largest arable land in Sub-Sahara Africa, an asset that provides a natural platform to engender socio-economic development and reverse the current trend of being a net importer of food to becoming a net exporter.
According to Ibikunle, the power of Agriculture comes not only from its direct poverty reduction effect but also from its potentially strong linkage effect on the rest of the economy. Ibikunle’s assertion — that well over 70 percent of Nigerians are directly or indirectly engaged in Agriculture —, however, raises even greater question as to why the same (70) percentage of the population, according to globally accepted statistics, live below poverty line — in this case $2 a day, a situation Ibikunle and some other experts at the forum linked with the country’s failure to develop the Agricultural value chain that would create more jobs. Truth is that, even though Nigeria’s rural dwellers (and some urban settlers) generally engage in one form of (subsistence, including pastoral) farming or the other, such activity economically peters into insignificance against the backdrop of other infrastructural challenges that negate economic empowerment.

Ibikunle challenged the panelists on why, despite the huge potential and comparative advantages that are in Agriculture, no serious concerted efforts are being made to develop the sector and use it as a means of attaining economic prosperity. “Successive governments,” he said, “have paid lip service to the sector, while the relatively few (genuine) attempts made at developing the sector are not holistic in nature to achieve anything meaningful.”
In his thoughts, the neglect and underdevelopment of Agricultural sector, the exponential growth of population (set to hit 200 million in the next 25 years) all form the rationale for increased investment in the sector.
In what appeared a self-appraisal therefore, Ibikunle sought to raise hopes. He said the BATN Foundation had priotised the sector (Agriculture) as focal area of its Corporate Social Investment (CSI) activities in Nigeria since inception in November 2002 and aligned agricultural agenda with national development plan via partnerships and CSR initiatives.
The move, according to him, was prompted by the realisation of the huge potentials and the promise that agriculture holds as a veritable platform for socio-economic development and poverty reduction in Nigeria.
“It is our belief that the neglect and perceived deliberate underdevelopment of the sector portends a great danger for the future of the country, most especially with the realisation that the population of the country is expected to reach the 200 million mark in the next 25 years and with about 60 percent of these expected to be within the 20 to 40 years age bracket.”
Some of the Foundation’s efforts at boosting agriculture include establishment of pilot agric projects as well as distribution of farm inputs and training for farmers in Northern and Western states of Nigeria.
According to him,  “the approach and strategies were holistic, “as we focused on rural poverty reduction through agricultural development by employing the following strategies: value adding and value chain development, agricultural technology transfer/capacity building and agro-forestry development.
“Having realised that agricultural produce are perishable and if wastages and loss of revenue are to be prevented, some form of farm level processing and value adding must be promoted. This, we believe, will not only enhance farmers’ income but also enhance productivity. Our approach is through setting up of cottage processing industries for cassava and palm oil processing. In the last nine years the BATN Foundation has established 14 cassava and palm oil processing cottage industries in 11 states in Nigeria.
“This approach has trickle-down effects in the areas of promoting indigenous agricultural equipment fabrication and seed and seedlings production enterprise. The inclusion of water component in the processing facilities also has health and economic implications because the rural communities now have access to clean water opportunities to establish businesses that are highly dependent on water such as food vendoring and hair dressing.”
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