Diversifying into Agro Allied Produce

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that in the face of dwindling oil revenue, Nigeria needs to look beyond that and diversify into other revenue generating ventures like agriculture and export of agro allied products

In the face of the global slump in the price of crude oil in the international market, many economies are constantly looking for ways to diversify rather than depend on crude oil. For Nigeria, its economy in the past years has rather been one dimension, thus earning the sobriquet mono-economy. While many Nigerians have diversified into real sector, the agro allied sector is however the new cash cow.

This has in turn given rise to agro-industries which take care of large-scale production, processing, and packaging of food using modern equipment and methods, depend on agriculture for their raw-materials so as to operate successfully in the production of finished goods that are useful to animals and humans.

Thus, agriculture provides not just food but also provides market for industrial products like farm machineries, chemicals and fertilisers. It also provides labour and income for the labourers.

Initiating agro allied services
Supporting the need for an agro-based economy, Chief Executive Officer of ABX World Nigeria Cargo, Captain John Okakpu, said the Federal Government, as a matter of urgency should initiate policies that would stimulate the export of agricultural produce. He said the agro sector has the potential to generate over 52 billion dollars annually if properly harnessed.

The chief campaigner for agro allied services said the promotion of farm produce for export by air could create over 20 million jobs for youths across the country, adding that the current global realities have made it imperative for government to be more creative in exploring other sources of revenues rather than depending on crude oil.

According to him, already his firm was promoting training with farmers and players in the supply chain and logistic business, on how to package Nigerian farm produce to scale through export standards prescribed by the European Union and other institutions.

Thus, ABX World Nigeria in collaboration with Arik Air and Skyway Aviation Grand Handling Company (SAHCOL), as cargo airline and process handling company, have strategised on ways to reposition Nigeria’s agro-allied produce exports to markets across Europe and the rest of the world.

Okakpu noted that it’s revolutionary approach would not only leapfrog the agricultural sector in the country, but also boost the supply chain which involves transportation, logistics, aviation, packaging, of such agricultural products for exportation, which will in turn create jobs for unemployed youths.

He said they plan to generate over 50,000 tons of agricultural produce annually for export, while targeting produce such as pumpkin leaves, fresh ginger and garlic, white and red sweet potatoes and bitter leaves, amongst others, and bring in the off-takers to take agricultural products as long as they meet the international standard and requirements.

Okakpu said promotion of agricultural produce has become imperative in the face of slump in the price of crude oil in the international market, declaring that current global realities have made it imperative for government to be more creative in exploring other sources of revenues rather than depending on crude oil.

He said, “Nigeria is a mono-economy country, depending on only crude oil to run its budgets. We need to wake up now that oil price has fallen to low index. This is the time to diversify the economy and invest heavily in agriculture and agro-allied products.

“To focus on agriculture, you need huge number of well-trained farmers, who will in turn form co-operative societies. You also need the supply chain that will get the products to their destinations, as well as warehouses, storage and packaging facilities.

“Our goal is to create 20 million jobs in two years, while Nigeria will be able to generate $52b annually from the export of agro allied products alone. There should not be any reason why Nigerians should suffer in the midst of plenty, especially as 70 per cent of all exportable farm produce comes from Northern Nigeria.

“Presently, we have 75 products and out of 75, one of the major and the top line product exported out of Nigeria is a leaf called Ugu (Pumpkin). You cannot believe that today if you bring 40 feet container full of Ugu it will go on a daily basis. That is one of the high products out of Nigeria. The list goes on; Ugu is there, bitter leaf is there, sweet potato, ginger, and garlic.
“We all know today that brown beans is banned from Nigeria, you can’t take it into Europe because of the chemical used in preservation. Then in terms of cassava peel, nothing out of cassava is a waste, including the peel. If you bring 100 container of cassava peel, it will go the same day from Nigeria.”

Amnesty for looters to fund agro ventures
According to the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ABX World, Okakpu, while commending President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against graft and corruption in governance, he said amnesty, rather than jailing looters, would bail Nigeria from its economic woes. Calling on the president not to deter in the recovery of looted funds in the bid to cushion the nation’s economic woes, he said such funds when recovered should be channeled towards agriculture.

He said such funds can be injected to revive the nation’s economy from the money stashed abroad instead of relying on loans from International Monetary Fund (IMF) as being advocated in some quarters.

He however urged the federal government to consider the proposed bill on amnesty for looters saying there is a bill in the National Assembly which if passed into law will curb corruption and as well make looters repatriate stolen fund to Nigeria commercial banks seamlessly.
He said it should be streamlined as such that Nigerians can gain access to this fund in form of loan at a single digit interest as contained in the amnesty bill, adding that this will create much impact on the economy than what the federation can gain through IMF loan.

He said, “See we have to start taking care of ourselves, over the years IMF has been giving us loans, knowing fully well we cannot manage it well. If they give you $5 million in a matter of months they will illegally obtain about $3 million whereas you still owe them with interests. I am optimistic that amnesty is the right alternative option and not IMF.

“The amnesty means whatever anybody has stashed abroad, let’s grant them official pardon and deposit it with Nigerian banks and it will be a fund for loan in single digit rate for indigenous investors into key sector of the nation’s economy away from oil and gas. Why am I saying this? If you look at other nations, they have systems to control this kind of amnesty, though in different coinages. They use their money to develop their countries, whereas, we feed them with our funds. It is annoying! So, amnesty is a way out.

“Fighting people to grab these funds from them may take us time and lead us to nowhere. For the past 30-40 years, only God knows how much was stolen and taken away from this country. If we do this, the Nigerian banks will become the biggest donors to the IMF. We can lend the world money! Fighting to get the money from them may cost you more than what they will remit at the end of the day. If you recover $10 billion that is just a fraction.

“If Nigeria put this amnesty programme in place and backed by law in the next six months people will repatriate over $100 billion to the system. If you keep fighting them the way we are doing now, you will fight for the next six months and recover nothing. I am also saying this in tandem with what the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who said ‘Nigeria is broke’. Many people do not understand when he said that, but the realities are there. So, to inject funds into the system, let us give this a trial.”

The Global GAP certification
Okakpu, who is behind the huge exportation of agricultural products to foreign countries, however, berated Nigeria zero structure for agro-allied business on the continent today especially in terms of acquiring the global GAP certification that would open wide the doors of exportation of agricultural products.

According to him, already, Kenya is leading in a network called Global GAP; which involves all the supermarkets in Europe and North America, adding, “but no Federal Government, state, local government nor community in Nigeria has Global GAP certification, which is one of the reasons we can’t even sell our agro-allied produce directly to Shoprite. How do we put our products to the world?

“Kenya is leading the African continent as it has 1,879, certifications; South Africa has 1,797; Egypt has 671, Ghana has over 200 certifications while Nigeria is zero! It’s sad. So, I thought of how to make a difference, change the face of agro-allied business in Nigeria.
“Agriculture is private sector driven. What is expected of the government is policy direction and structures in place to empower subsistence farmers, not commercial farmers only. I have a road map that can change the system and strongly believe it can create about 50 million jobs in this country.”

The Anambra connection
Of all the states, Anambra State has embraced living in a Nigeria beyond oil. The government has partnered with ABX World, to facilitate the export of about $5.2billion worth of agro-allied products to European countries yearly. Others listed in the deal are Arik Air and Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL), which would facilitate the packaging and air freighting to European countries, as well as ensure that about 75 farm products of which pumpkin leaf tops the list, are exported from Nigeria to Europe and rest of the world.

Okakpu described the partnership as part of the state government’s efforts to lead the way in its commitment to developing agriculture. The gesture, he said, is capable of generating jobs, eliminating poverty and restoring investor’s confidence in the state, adding that the state has become a trailblazer in this regard, as “different state governments, realising their dwindling fortune in the wake of falling oil revenue, are now interested in the agro-allied exports.”

Commending the move Okakpu said, “That is why I doff my hat for the Anambra State Government led by Chief Willie Obiano for the interest they have expressed towards agriculture. Of all the states we approached to key into this, only Anambra embraced it. Today, they are reaping the benefits already with increased IGR. I am not boasting, what it requires is the political will on the side of the government, to put structures in place.

“Anambra State is leading the way through serious commitment to agriculture,” adding that “the state is far ahead of others in grassroots structure and technology deployment to aid farmers. When we entered into agreement with them, we discovered that they have gone very far. For instance, the state has over 1400 corporative societies and they have gone to the extent of training most of the farmers and also the certification of the corporative societies.

“The next step was the geo-mapping of the area for easy identification of the farmlands from any part of the world. This is a sure step to curb the incessant rejection of agro-allied produce from Nigeria at the European and the rest of the world markets. The EU certified trainers were in Nigeria about three months ago. So, after that training and certification programme, the participants were guaranteed of three years contract to supply agro-allied produce to Europe and can use it for the rest part of the world. This is the real capacity building we are talking about. There is no other better way to fight poverty and encourage farmers than to provide markets for them.”

Expressing optimism that the project will create millions of jobs in the country as more states queue-in into it, he said ABX World will use its partnerships around the world to make a difference and create agricultural revolution whereby they bring in the off-takers to take agricultural products as long as they meet the international standard and requirements.

What exportation entails
When such agricultural products have been harnessed, for Okakpu who uses ABX World, his cargo and a courier organisation, as a vehicle to export the goods worldwide, the next thing is exportation to other countries and that is where cargo handling plays a huge role.
Started in 1998 as Airborn Express but after DHL bought it over Airborn Express in 2002, he set up another network, that later metamorphosed into ABX World. According to him, at ABX World, their goal is to champion agro airline in Nigeria.

On how it works he said they have partners in Europe and around the world who they take agricultural products to as long as they meet the international standard and requirements to the world. The first thing they do is to engage a lot of supply chains around the world, especially in Europe, bring in the supply chain and liaise with the government, both state and federal to get the farmers, through their co-operative societies. These farmers have to be trained (GAP) so they can be certified to supply the products they are into. This certification gets them three years contract.

If Nigeria eventually diversifies the economy and look beyond oil revenue for sustenance, the agricultural sector will become the game changer. Already, Okakpu said they are already partnering communities into going into production of world class food produce that can meet up with international standards.