‘Nigeria can maximise its agricultural potentials’

By Paul Adunwoke   |   02 May 2017   |   3:50 am  

Richard Mark Mbaram, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) AgroNigeria

Richard Mark Mbaram is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) AgroNigeria. He spoke to PAUL ADUNWOKE on the Feed Nigeria Summit, scheduled to hold today and tomorrow at Intercontinental Hotel, Lagos.

What is this Feed Nigeria Summit?
The Feed Nigeria Summit (FNS) is a programme intended to bring the crème of the agriculture sector together to discuss how to better position it as a means of boosting the nation’s economy.  We all know that the gospel of diversification of the economy has been preached for a long time.

The current government at the Federal level has taken several measures to revamp the economy and also provide succor to the vulnerable in the society. One of such measures is the Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP). It is the belief of the Organizers of the FNS that the HGSFP can be a catalyst for accelerated increase in agricultural productivity. Hence, the FNS provides for a High Level Session on the HGSFP where key players in the Agriculture space will engage high level Government functionaries and local, as well as international development finance institutions on how best to trigger growth, while playing a Nutrition card.

So FNS2017, which runs under the theme; “Feed Nigeria to Feed Africa”, is not your regular run-of-the-mill agric event. Rather, it is a well thought out, solution oriented convocation which centrally seeks to underscore that Nigeria, by the sheer size of her population and economy, is the fulcrum of the agenda to “Feed Africa” and must immediately be galvanized to better feed itself.

The programme was scheduled to hold on 6th and 7th of April 2017 and later postponed what happened?
Our decision to postpone the event is in recognition of the fact that the Vice President of the Federation, who superintends over the economy and directly steers the ship of implementation of the HGSFP was not properly informed of the event. So also the Minister of Agriculture, a man avidly working to Feed Nigeria. Knowledge of this made it incumbent on us to postpone the event – despite the profound financial implications as we know how important it is for the VP to relate with the agricultural Private Sector on this all important initiative, a key economic stimulus in every sense of the word. Only an Organization not predominantly actuated by financial motives would contemplate this line of action.

Now, the summit has technical support from the African Development Bank and the Songhai Centre for Development will serve as a key to collaborative intervention between policymakers, the agro-sector, the development community and academia-research community to ensure the continued growth of the Nigerian agricultural sector, particularly for the benefit of primary producers.

The Summit, will feature a Special Session on the Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP) of the Federal Government, to be chaired by Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo, is expected to have the Ministers of Agriculture as host alongside other key ministers of the Federal cabinet.

The Keynote addresses shall be delivered by Prof (Fr) Godfrey Nzamujo, Director of the Songhai Centre, Porto Novo, Benin Republic and Ms. Atsuko Toda, Director of Agricultural finance, African Development Bank.

Expected dignitaries include the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, the President of the African Development Bank, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, key Governors and prominent players in the private agric-sector in Nigeria.

The need for this all-important discourse comes to the fore because AgroNigeria, and indeed the agro-private sector, firmly believe that, especially with multi-stakeholder buy-in, the HGSFP has massive potentials to promote massive inclusive growth in Nigerian agribusiness, boost the economic benefits accruable to

Smallholder farmers and increase the volume of domestic food production, while ramping up agro-industrial investments.

Why did you decided to come up with this programme?
As cursorily indicated above, the decision to convene the FNS is hinged on our passion to see Nigeria take her rightful place as the leader of African agricultural. We believe this country can maximize its agricultural potentials, thereby producing enough to assuage domestic demand. Here, I must state that the FNS draws inspiration from the “Feed Africa” agenda of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the “Grow More With Less” campaign of the Songhai Center of Excellence. From the two prisms, Nigerian agriculture can indeed both draw benefit and confer high value.

Songhai is a true tale of the possibilities of the African agricultural genius while the Feed Africa Agenda is an ambitious, yet attainable action plans to reverse Africa’s agricultural fortunes. In both narratives, Nigeria is providentially, centrally, positioned but must begin to lead.

How long have you been organising this programme and what are the benefits to your target audience?
AgroNigeria is Nigeria’s agricultural mouthpiece. We have been at the forefront of promoting agriculture for the past twelve years. We are an agric-sector specific media and communications outfit with offerings across the entire communications value chain print, electronics and virtual. Our foray into events management dates back to 2008 when we inspired and co-organized with the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), the International Conference on Food Security. Subsequently, we convened the Nigeria International Agricultural Summit and Expo, in 2009, again with the NESG. We have provided technical facilitation for several high ended agricultural convocations, even helping to birth and entrench the AgraInnovate Nigeria Conference and Exhibitions organized by Informa Group.

AgroNigeria birthed and engenders the Nigeria Agriculture Awards (NAA), which has shocked the polity into realizing that indeed, Agriculture has come of age. This year’s event features a novel category for the Youth – the only cash denominated category of the Awards. The Feed Nigeria Summit 2017, is however the first of what will be a “year on year” event and given AgroNigeria’s track record of service to the agricultural sector, has drawn profound support from well meaning agricultural stakeholders.

How will this programme encourage youths to go into farming?
We trust that a proper implementation of the HGSFP will have ripple implications such as would encourage more youths to take to farming. The key problem militating against youth participation in Agriculture is the drudgery associated with farm practice. That mindset has got to be changed and that is being done through the instrumentality of the NAA, where we have taken steps to engage the younger generation on the need to look differently at the sector.

Just to buttress this point further; the NAA, for the first time provides for a cash prize of N1m for the best problem solving project idea put forward by a team of university students or National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), members.  On the other hand, secondary school students were required to submit an essay on the topic: “What policy steps would you take, if you were made Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Nigeria.

In both cases, the youths are forced to look at agriculture from a problem solving prism, different from the traditionally detached standpoint. That is how you force a paradigm shift and we are grateful to our partners who have endowed this category with financial contributions.

How will this summit impact on development of agriculture in Nigeria?
The entire Summit is packed full with benefits for Nigerian agriculture. To begin with, it is the consummation of 12 years of unrelenting coverage and advocacy on Agriculture which is reflected in the “Homegrown, problem solving” narrative running through the entire event. From research and extension through to practice; coupled with enhanced market creation, infrastructure, services and financing, the Summit will be dedicated to forging an actionable trajectory for result-based agricultural development in Nigeria. It is important to reiterate at this juncture that our commitment to Nigeria’s Agriculture is total and unapologetic.

In all, an effective implementation of the HGSFP at all levels will primarily trigger increase in agricultural productivity as the food to be fed to the primary school pupils will be produced locally by our farmers, thus providing guaranteed off-take. A happy and economically empowered farmer is all Nigeria needs to have its food security needs met. Once agricultural productivity is spiked, industrial activity naturally will follow on account of the need for processing and manufacturing of nutritious food for the pupils. This will of course have concomitant implications on the larger economy. So, we are talking about an ecosystem laden with premium economic value.

How will it benefit local farmers?
This is best understood by considering the phenomenal implication of pumping N100billion into the food production value chain. As stated earlier, the farmers will be the producers of the food and they are guaranteed off-take. This emancipates the local farmer from the stranglehold of middlemen. There has been ceaseless complaint from local farmers that they are being cheated by these middlemen. But with an effective implementation of the HGSFP, the local famers already have a market since government would buy from them directly.

They will also benefit from input subsidy and other knowledge based assistance, which will result in increased production.

How possible is it for you to assist Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) especially in terms of funding?
While AgroNigeria is not really a financial institution, our longstanding presence in the agricultural sector has brought us into relationship with several financial institutions and other development partner assisted programmes. Thus, we can leverage this relationship to ensure that groups and organizations SMEs in particular as well as cooperatives are more robustly provided for within the contemplation of credit provision.

There is no doubt that “Mom and Pop” businesses are the engine room of any economy and Nigeria needs to nurture hers into a vibrant economic engine room.



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