Crusoe Osagie discusses the certain crisis awaiting Nigeria as her population continues to rise and the survival strategies being promoted by HarvestPlus and DFID
Nigerian leaders seem to be unaware of what the real challenge of the nation is.
By 2050, the massive West African nation which is currently the seventh most populated in the world, will rise to the fourth spot with an estimated 397 million people.
This information provided by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), a Washington-based organisation that informs people around the world about population, health, and the environment should unsettled any right thinking government.
More damning about Nigeria’s demographic challenge is the fact that about 70 persons who will make up the 397 million will be youth around the age of 40 years and below.
Even the N500billion (about $1.6billion) social investment included in the Buhari budget which the government is still at a loss about how to fund, is a hilarious joke, compared to what is suitable to prevent the socio-economic mayhem that lies ahead.
Apart from making efforts to rid the country of corruption, which is a commendable step the current government is taking, save for the complaint of partiality from the opposition, the next most serious problem is youth empowerment.
To empower the youths you must build both social and physical infrastructure, you must develop education and provide good access to it, you must create opportunity for vocational skills to easily pass on to the young and inquisitive, you must provide access to credit in order to drive entrepreneurship.
All these steps, among many others will help to breed hope among the over 200 million young people that will make up Nigeria by 2050, because without hope, this population instead of being capital for the nation, will be an armed nuclear war head, which will tear down the country, its African neighbours and most of Europe and the United States once it explodes.
HarvrestPlus and DFID Efforts
This is the reason why the recent effort of HarvestPlus, an organisation that develops and promotes biofortified crops rich in vitamins and minerals, along with
the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE), to promote enterprise among the people of the ravaged Niger-Delta region deserves commendation and emulation.
Last week, the two organisations executed another round of training session for 150 women in pastries business.
The trainees, mainly females, who were drawn from rural communities and top hotels in Akwa-Ibom and Abia states, were taught methods to utilise vitamin A cassava in pastries production, as well as, profitable business practices so as to scale their operations for commercialisation.
Hope for the Disabled
One of the beneficiaries of the effort, Grace Udom, 30, who wears an infectious laugher was particularly striking. Petite and physically challenged, she has fought life’s battles gallantly and indeed has a reason to smile, gifting to friends a share of joy from the fullness of her heart.
Having to manage through life limping with crutches, she stumbled last year on a training on self empowerment after which her life took a new turn. She had very little to do before, but was trained on how to make combobites, a nutritious snack made from vitamin A cassava, as well as, other confectionaries, so as to eke out a living.
Now, regardless of her physical condition, Udom, who chats excitedly in a training center in a Catholic church in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, makes at least N20,000 weekly, has recently gotten married and has a baby.
Udom is one among many beneficiaries of trainings of HarvestPlus Nigeria, an agricultural non-profit organisation that breeds and disseminates rich staple crops to reduce hidden hunger among malnourished populations.
HarvestPlus has partners in more than six Nigerian states, who help in fortifying the vitamin A cassava value-chain, and are working to expand into more states, preaching the message of biofortification and working to reduce malnutrition in Nigeria. Other than efforts to help farmers attain higher yield from rich staples, the firm is building a framework that connects farmers with processors, ensuring that the nutritious content in the crops are retained when they finally get to the final consumer, so as to guarantee that the fight against malnutrition is truly achieved.
The head of Nigeria’s country office of HarvestPlus, Dr. Paul Ilona, has been at the forefront of the quest to get Nigerians to consume more nutritious staples and lead healthier lives.
He believes the training would go a long way in equipping youths not only in making money and scaling their small and medium businesses, but also fight malnutrition.
“We must work to bridge the gap and arrest the rising mortality challenge. Interestingly, in training youths to produce nutritious foods, we are ensuring that they make substantial income while saving lives,” he said.
He added that the training prioritises strategies to ensure profitability, noting, “This is because if you get a loan, you must be ready to pay back with interest. In order to do that, businesses must be willing to increase their scale of operations. When quality drops and you cut corners, a business dies. So in growing through economics of scale, small businesses must prioritise quality so as be able to repay loans as well as make more profit.”
On the commitment to link small businesses to markets, he said, “At DFID-MADE and HarvestPlus, we are committed to creating a platform to ensure that those involved in vitamin A cassava farming grow. It would be out to place to hear that farmers produce and cannot sell their products. We would link them to the market, but they will go the extra mile to produce the desired quality.”
Approval from the Academia
Making a case for the training, Akwa State University (AKSU) partner of HarvestPlus and MADE consultant, Dr. Edna Akpan, said processors in the state, who have added value to vitamin A cassava, needed sustainable links to those who would use their products in making pastries.
“The level of adoption of vitamin A cassava in Akwa Ibom state is alarming. The people are agitating for more; the demand is that high. Hence, this training is aimed at identifying and targeting women in pastries production in the state. That is why we have brought the women here.”
Noting that the programme is designed to provide funding to the best trainees, she said soft loans would be provided for those who show promise and are diligent, as it was desired that those who get trained scale out and fully commercial their products.
Mrs. Imeobong Edet, who runs Imeakan Farms in Akwa Ibom State, is a key player in the training session, as she helped in processing her vitamin A cassava farm produce into flour to be used in teaching the participants on best practices in using the improved product in producing nutrient-rich confectionaries, such as combobites.
“I wanted to go into farming about three years ago, and met with Emmanuel Akpan, the extension head at the Akwa Ibom State Agricultural Development Project (AKADEP) on how to go about it. I showed AKADEP my farm and they asked me to plough and weed. Then they came and inspected my farm and gave me the stems. I started with 2.7 hectares land with vitamin A cassava three years ago. After I did that and harvested, I had problems with where to sell because the awareness of the product wasn’t that much at the time,” she said.
Confused and needing a way out of the perennial problem equally faced by many Nigerian farmers, she went back to the ministry of agriculture, where she was advised to set up a mill. She heeded the advice and set up the plant to scale her business and move up the agriculture value-chain.
“I started producing garri and fufu. In two years, I have done about done about 10 hectares of vitamin A cassava alone. We just got a new variety which we have taken to the farm for second season planting. We have finished with the planting and we understand that it is going to do better than the ones we had before,” she said. “So when they said they wanted to do the training today and had difficulty in getting flour, I told them I can do something for them. It was cumbersome but by God’s grace I was able to produce flour for them. And that’s the flour they are using for this programme today.”
She produced three bags of flour for the training and is hoping to scale production of the product in the coming months. Brimming with pride, she says she is a passionate farmer, who decided to plunge into farming not minding distractions when she acquired the land and was given the stems, noting, “You are not going to make much more initially. In fact, in the early days, what you get would not be comparable with what you put into it. But gradually, you would break even. For instance, I have scaled into processing of the produce and now I produce flour.”
Udom is also scaling her business, as other than the products she learnt at the last session, she now makes burger from vitamin A cassava and believes it takes such innovative moves to become successful.
“I supply supermarkets my product and sometimes, I can’t even meet the demand. The response to my products in the market has been encouraging. A lot of people are now switching to products from vitamin A cassava because it is good for those who have diabetes.”
While many are focused on maximising the health benefits of vitamin A cassava, Ime Malachy, an innovator, has other ideas. He hails from a village which utilizes local technology in distilling drinks and has deployed the technology in producing innovative products from vitamin A cassava.
He said, “I produce hand sanitizers, carwash, body wash, and hair growers, all from vitamin A cassava. We are working on the sweetening for food seasoning.
At the moment, the market is not big because people are not buying in bulk; I get only small orders from hospitals and super markets in the state. They buy once in two months. I use at least 60 per cent of vitamin A cassava in making the products. I need big machines to automate the process, and it is a skill that can be transferred to others.”
He said his work is domiciled at the technology incubation center, in Akwa Ibom, where scientists advise him on processes, standards and quality assurance, noting, “I am well guided in what I do. The scientists are helping me with the lab tests to ensure my products meet requisite standards. I am working to ensure that I get NAFDAC and SON clearances on the products soon. I believe that other than the fight against nutrition, we need to address matters of hygiene.”