Last year at the 19th Nigerian Economic Summit( NES) held between September 3-5, my hopes were raised that May be Nigeria has found something to rally round as a pedestal for a major Economic renaissance - AGRICULTURE. For me who had been involved in the Nigerian Economic Summit since it started about 21 years ago and have attended all the 20 Summits to date,without miss, that summit was electrifying.

Why? Nigerians found something virtually EVERY ONE could identify with and agree upon. There was a refreshing consensus that Agriculture is it. The theme of the Summit was apt and captured a succinct mission: TO GROW AGRICULTURE AS A BUSINESS TO DIVERSIFY NIGERIA'S ECONOMY. Every Nigerian needs a profitable business to do,and Agriculture is one where EVERY NIGERIAN, no matter his age, sex, religion, tribe,language or social class can play and indeed we can literarily wipe out Unemployment . Does Nigeria need to diversify its economy? It sure does and badly too. The imminent threat to our major foreign exchange earner- Crude oil is a major worry. Oil has been found in very many other Nations and soon supply will exceed demand bringing down prices. Second, our major crude oil customer- the United States of America has found alternative, it's own shale gas and has virtually stopped buying Nigeria's crude, Bonny sweet and all. Third, the World is frantically moving to renewable energy sources like, solar and wind and investing heavily searching for other alternatives like biofuels. Soon hydrocarbons may become discredited and unattractive. This reality is imminent.

From President Goodluck Jonathan to his resourceful and focused Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, to all members of the Federal Executive Council who fully participated in the summit, to all the other Public and Private sector participants including the young men and women( Nagropreneurs ), who have already bought into the Agric revolution , there was an unusual but exhilarating unanimity of agreement that our Nation has finally rediscovered its economic mission.

Essentially, there was agreement that to achieve this new mission in Agriculture, we needed to a couple of things:

1. Establish Linkages across all the sectors: from the Agricultural Research Institutes dotted across the Nation to the provision of infrastructure and technology through the Industrial processing and the marketing of Products.

2. Dedicated and Liberal financing must be assured: there was agreement between all including the bankers that Agriculture can not survive on the 'punitive' and business-averse financing in Nigeria. First the funding must be liberally available across the Nation and second the interest rate must be single digit.

3. Introduce Market/Commodities Exchange: if the revolution must succeed and be sustained, then the farmers must make money. Therefore markets for harvest need to be established, while efforts are made to abolish post-harvest losses.

4.Critical Infrastructure Up grade mandated: the agriculture value chain must be fully supported by an aggressive infrastructural upgrade.

5. The Agricultural Business must be knowledge driven: in the 21st. Century Economy,knowledge is it and in the current Agric rally, it is of overwhelming importance. The traditional and old ways of agriculture will only keep us where we have been.

6. Maintain Environmental Surveillance and Monitor Climate Change: it is critical that investment in Agric is not wiped out by adverse climate, thus a great need for the provision of environmental scanning technology and the installation of early warning systems.

7. Sustain the Agriculture Transformation Agenda: the Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA) must be sustained and allowed to run its course. Nigeria is not famous with policy consistency. The stories of Operation feed the Nation (OFN), and the Green Revolution have not been lost on Nigerians. Therefore every effort must be made to ensure that this does not happen again.

8. Government Partnership at all tiers and at all levels critical: the role of governments at all tiers is seen as critical for the success of the Agric revolution and therefore they must take the initiative in supporting all activities down the Agric chain from land access to price support.

So what has happened since? Was it all talk and speeches as usual ? Did all the zeal and enthusiasm dissipate after the summit? Early this Month (June2-4), I had the opportunity to assess the progress that have been made. At the 3rd edition of the Annual AGRIKEXPO and the West African FOODBEXT trade show held at the EKO EXPO Centre organised by the 151 Products Ltd, in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development(FMARD) and the National Agency for Foods, and Drugs Administration and Control( NAFDAC)I was face to face with reality of the Agricultural transformation Agenda. I saw rows after rows of Agric producers, processors, marketers and exporters. Many States especially Lagos, Abia, Plateau, Ogun, Niger and Kwara exhibited their Agric products including processed foods( EKO rice for example). I saw bakers of cassava bread and processors of moringa plant into teas and creams. I was amazed by the processors of Nigeria's staple food who have packaged them in forms that they can be sold in supermarkets and exported. I saw Notore display their new urea fertilizers locally formulated. I saw the big boys of Nigeria's food industry- Cardbury, Nestle, Promasidor, Nigerian flour mills,etc displaying their new products. The technology purveyors and research institutes were there selling their new inventions to potential Agric industrialists.What really amazed me was the number of international exhibitors at the trade shows despite the security scare in Nigeria.They came from Britain, Ireland, Malaysia, Germany, India, China, Turkey, Egypt and several other countries. Several papers were presented by distinguished participants at the plenary sessions held in between the trade shows, This included the Minister of Agriculture, the Director General of NAFDAC, the Governor of Abia State, the commissioner of Agriculture of plateau State and several other leaders in the private Agric sector. Some of the startling revelations from the expo included:

. Nigeria is poised to become a major player in global food and Agricultural market.

. Agriculture exports expanded by 720 Billion Naira between 2012 and 2012

. The growth enhancement scheme under which farmers across the country now receive their subsidized fertilizers and seeds via electronic coupons(e-wallets) on their mobile phones have since been launched.

. Today, $5 billion of new investments in fertilizer manufacturing are on going by Dangote, Indoroma and Notore and Nigeria will soon become a net exporter of fertilizers.

. Investors are moving massively into local food production and milling. Olam has invested $70 million in a fully mechanized rice farm and will soon commission it's 210,000 MT integrated rice mills, the largest in Africa.

. Dangote Group has committed $300 million for large-scale rice production and world-class

Rice milling while high quality rice from $40million Dominion farms will soon hit the market

. High quality Nigerian Rice is now in the market, including UMZA Rice, EBONY super rice, MIKAP a Rice , EKO Rice etc

. Nigeria is now the 2nd largest producer of Citrus in the World, the largest producer of Mangoes and Tomatoes in Africa.

.Teragro has established a $6 million plant to process orange into concentrates while Dansa farm is investing $35 million in the building of a tomato processing plant and another $45 million in Pineapple plantation and processing.

. Cargo .airports are being built to enhance Nigeria's competitiveness in the export of Fresh Produce

. 9 million high yielding seedlings of oil palm have been distributed free of charge to small holder farmers and plantation estates to restore our Palm oil production

.We are the World's largest producer of Cassava and we are now becoming the largest processor of cassava, starting with the use of cassava flour to partially substitute for imported wheat flour in bread, confectionaries, starch, sweeteners, chips and ethanol. Several bakeries are now producing cassava bread.

. The Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP) has been launched to create a new generation of young farmers and Agric entrepreneurs (Nagropreneurs ). Plan is to develop 760,000 Nagropreneurs within 5 years.

. Staple crop processing zones(SCPZ ), which are new agricultural infrastructure- enabled zones to attract Agric investors to rural areas have been launched. The World Bank is collaborating with other financial institutions to raise $1 billion in support.

. Agricultural lending as a share of the total bank lending rose from 0.7% to 5% in Two years

. To drive equity provision for small and medium scale agribusiness, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, the federal ministry of finance and the German Development Bank, KFW have jointly established a $100 million equity and quasi-equity fund.

. Finally, the eyes of the World are on how to feed the 9 billion People expected in the World by 2050. Africa is where that solution is, because 65% of all remaining arable land in the World is in Africa. With Nigeria having the largest share of this, there is no doubt that the future growth frontier for feeding the World will be in Nigeria.

Wow! It is clear that it was not all talk. For once we seem to be walking our talk. Agriculture is certain to be the rallying point for Nigeria's Economic renaissance . Are you ready to take a position now?

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR


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