Feature Interview with Paul Akande

In this interview with The Export Brief, Mr. Akande discusses several issues hampering agribusiness development in Nigeria, the opportunities and offers a way forward.
14 Oct 2018
Feature Interview

Topics

Inno

Welcome Mr. Akande. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your role in the institute?

Paul:  Thank you so much for welcoming me!

My experience and expertise spans across the entire value chain of aquaculture and agricultural business economics. I currently serve as the Head of Agribusiness, Partnership and Sustainability of the Institute of Export Operations & Management (IEOM), a Trade and Investment Support Institute (TISI) in Nigeria.

So, in the last few years, coming down from the last administration, the federal government has been putting in more effort into growing the agricultural economy. Where do you see progress?

Paul:  Yes that is true, successive governments have intensified effort to re-direct the focus of Nigerians to agriculture, this was strengthened by the recent economic recession in Nigeria which recovery was hinged on agro-driven economy. There has been lot of campaigns that has created excitement among the people to return to our “first love” agriculture.

In term of success, one area that government scores very high is awareness created that agriculture is the way to go; there is a mind shift among the populace to engage in agricultural activity. Many young men and women now see agriculture as a career or a major profession that they can venture into. It is also commendable on the part of the government on their new blueprint for economic recovery that identified agriculture as one of the country’s sectoral comparative advantage, from the Agriculture Transformation Agenda (ATA) of the past administration to the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) of the present administration which adopted the Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016 (APP) goals, that focuses on three key policy objectives.

These include increase agriculture GDP from N16 trillion in 2015 to N21 trillion in 2020; reduce food imports and become a net exporter of key agriculture products; and become self-sufficient in tomato paste, rice and wheat by 2020.

 

But to properly harness the opportunity in agriculture is more than just making media or political campaign statements; it goes beyond putting on paper some very attractive policy documents.  Agriculture encompasses a large array of activities from smallholder farming, infrastructures to research and development.  What about agricultural financing, market access, post-harvest handling to mitigate food loss and food waste issue. 

Government claims to have released huge funds to banks and other financial institutions to finance the sector, but does this fund get to the real farmers? Those who manage to produce cannot move out their products to where it is needed because there are no roads, and then there’s no energy to preserve perishable products. It is not enough to create awareness for people to return to farm without putting necessary structure in place.

The several barriers against development of agribusinesses like I mentioned earlier must be addressed and these are things like small scale production; lack of capital; limited access to markets, distribution channels and business support; inadequate legislation and regulation; poor management skills on the part of farmers; poor post-harvest handling which leads to loses/ waste and the non-acceptance of our produce in the international markets. 

As you’ve rightly mentioned, there are key issues holding back the growth of agriculture economy. What in your opinion are the core ones we have to tackle short term, mid-term and long term?

Paul: The key issues I mentioned earlier can be summarized as follows; Infrastructure needs: Agriculture depends heavily on infrastructure such as rural transport systems, irrigation systems/ water supply, electricity, storage and telecommunication facilities if we really want it to be attractive especially for the youth.  Research and Development is another aspect that government need to be serious about; the state of our research institutions is so poor that they can’t produce new research output that can be adopted by the industry.

In the short to medium term: We must think of “inclusive agribusiness models” which would make every actor in the agric value chain to properly understand their roles and play such role effectively. There must be an approach to address the needs of various actors in the value chain; the needs of farmers and agribusiness entrepreneurs for example, finance for inputs (such as seeds and fertilizers), production (such as machinery and equipment) and marketing (such as processing, packaging and logistics).

And in the long run, we must have a “strategic plan or a realizable development (SMART) agenda” which is sector or product specific. Let me take you back to the Government Yam export saga of 2017, it was because there was no development plan for yam as a commodity for export, because if there has been any we won’t find ourselves in such a national disgrace. You may say we have a Cassava development plan; yes Cassava plan was launched over ten years ago, but is the plan SMART enough? Can we measure our progress if we making any at all?

 

As a practitioner, where are we getting it right? Where are we scratching the surface and which opportunities are already being tapped?

Paul: The potential in this sector is so huge and opportunities abound across the entire value chains. Let me tell you, agriculture is the key to building sustainable wealth for generations to come because whether we like it or not we will continue to eat. It is not just limited to crop farming or livestock production.  It’s about everything from seeds to production to processing to packaging to marketing to distribution or export.

Look, Nigeria has over 70 million hectares of cultivable land out of a total land area of 98.3 million hectares, much of the focus has been on primary production to some processing, but there are serious value opportunities in other areas too such as cold chain storage, logistics or transportation in the fruit and vegetable value chains, these are perishable products and investing in the value chain will reduce food waste/ loss. According Dr. Adesina, “We have no business importing food”. Why should we be importing rice, fish, palm oil, wheat, sugar? Does it make any economic sense 

when we have the natural resources to produce these crops?

In terms of getting something right; the Federal Government’s Anchor Borrowers Programme powered by the Central Bank is a vital instrument if well implemented without political undertone. The Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) is another good product, but we still have a long way to go in producing enough food to feed ourselves and export.

Nigeria needs a creative agricultural sector to really diversify its economy, and for the sector to reach that level of productivity to sustain economic diversification, job creation and food security, there must be a paradigm shift in funding across the value chain.