Amaechi Christopher
On Wednesday, November 16, 2016, Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE), a UK government DFID-funded development programme, which seeks to increase the incomes of at least 150,000 poor men and women in the Niger Delta, launched a Technology Adoption Grant (TAG) fund in Owerri, the capital of Imo State. The TAG Fund, which is an N80,000,000.00 (Eighty Million Naira) private sector matching grant fund is aimed at stimulating improved performance in select agriculture value chains in palm oil and fisheries, to increase incomes for individuals and enterprises in the sector and to drive economic growth in the Niger Delta.

The programme which is billed to last for four and a half years, has been in existence for three years and in that period MADE has succeeded in initiating and supporting growth in the Niger Delta non-oil economy by stimulating sustainable, pro-poor growth in selected agricultural and agricultural input markets, and improving the position of economically active poor men and women in these markets by making them more inclusive. This they did by adopting a market development approach. Using this approach, MADE has facilitated partnerships with the private sector in five market systems across seven of the nine Delta States namely in Edo, Delta, Cross River, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, and Imo States.

Speaking at the launch in Owerri, the Team Lead of MADE, Mr. Tunde Oderinde, told participants that MADE was not only interested in palm oil and fisheries, given the focus of the TAG fund, but that MADE was also doing so much more in other value chains in various market systems including in agricultural inputs, household poultry, and cassava. He also spoke of the particular attention MADE has paid to the Leather Industry in Aba. MADE intervention implementation continues with focus on consolidating and scaling-up series of initiatives with market actors in the five value chains across all nine Niger Delta states.

While the launching of the fund was held in Owerri, the fund is for the nine Niger Delta states and open to all interested parties who meet the eligibility criteria outlined for applicants and published on MADE’s website, social media platforms and handbills shared at the venue. According to Oderinde, ‘TAG is not going to be a one-off programme as there are other areas of interest where technology adoption would result in increase in the earning capacity of the market actors and players, but for palm oil and fisheries, the launch is only the beginning’. The launch was held in Imo State because of an earlier promise made to the Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prince Eze Madumere, by the MADE team during the 2016 NDDF, which held in the State in October, that MADE would be back to Owerri to kick off some of its intervention programmes.

These interventions include in areas of improving fish farmers’ knowledge and access to new markets and is focused on increasing the income of pond fish farmers, by increasing their technical capacity in fish pond management and their entrepreneurial skills. The initiative supports wild capture fishermen to reduce post-harvest losses through the introduction of smoking kiln in select processing centres. This intervention forms one of the three windows of the TAG fund with a distinct focus through which eligible applicants can apply for funding. This window focuses on improving access to affordable improved fish smoking Kiln because access to new kilns will increase smoking efficiency i.e. the time it takes to smoke fish, smoking capacity i.e. the amount of fish that can be smoked in a given time, and reduce fuel costs.

This will also reduce wastage of unprocessed fish and increase incomes for the smokers. Improved fish smoking capacity is also expected to increase incomes and profitability for fish smokers as it will reduce on-shore post-harvest losses. Those who have benefited from prior MADE’s fish farming intervention have learnt to increase their incomes by reducing their production costs, increasing their effective yield, producing bigger and higher value fish as well as engaging in strategies for discovering and accessing alternative markets.

That MADE is deeply involved with the people of the Niger Delta and is in tune with their challenges to access various available technologies to improve their economic outputs is not in doubt. According to Oderinde, MADE came up with TAG fund because of the feedback they got from their interventions especially in oil palm where processors were losing as much as 35% of their yield due to inefficient methods of processing and the man hours wasted due to inefficient harvesting methods and technologies used.

The inefficiency in oil palm processing gave rise to the second funding window which is to improve access to improved Palm Oil processing technologies. By initiating the funding window, MADE is encouraging equipment manufacturers to fabricate and sell small sized components of improved palm oil processing technologies in order to address the low oil output and earnings experienced by smallholder farmers and millers through the use of engine powered digester and a manual press.

One of such small sized component is the NIFOR designed Small Scale Processing Equipment (SSPE) which has been proven to increase oil extraction rates by 30%, reduce time spent on processing and labour usage. Grants received from the TAG Fund will enable farmers, SME agro-processors and commercial millers who are interested in acquiring the small set of SSPE for their use and organizing demonstrations on its benefits and use targeted at other millers, mill-users and farmers, acquire them. This is expected to increase awareness on the benefits of SSPE and in turn, increase demand for the technologies by millers and mill users, thus leading to increased oil yields.

Another funding window open to beneficiaries focuses on improving access to improved harvesting technologies. This third funding window was initiated because of the highly inefficient manual operation of harvesting of oil palm Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB) by small and medium scale oil palm plantation farmers in the Niger Delta region. Added to this, is the scarcity of climbers due to growing risks associated with manual climbing, changing demographics and rural-urban migration. MADE is engaging with the marketers to promote the benefits and use of improved harvesting technologies such as the Mechanical Adjustable Harvester and Malaysian knife proven to increase the quantity of harvestable Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB) by 50% compared to manual method and reduce time spent on harvesting. MADE aims to achieve this this by encouraging their usage.

The funding window is therefore to support the acquisition of the harvester and knife by leading commercial harvesters and farmers’ groups who are interested in acquiring them for their use and organizing demonstrations on their benefits and use targeted at other farmers. This is expected to increase awareness on benefits of the improved harvesting technologies and in turn, increased demand for the technologies by farmers, thus leading to increased FFB output.

While the Technology Adoption Grant fund is the latest of MADE’s intervention initiatives in the Niger Delta, it does not encompass all the areas of interest of MADE. This is because MADE is also focusing on sustainable cassava production with bio-products as inputs and is working with large agro input companies to develop stronger distribution systems and introducing new market opportunities for small holder farmers, through incentivizing the process of promoting agro inputs directly to the small holder farmers and what they stand to benefits by buying more inputs. MADE is also focusing on improving productivity and access to new markets for small household poultry producers.

This intervention is exploring opportunities for addressing New Castle Disease (NCD) in household poultry, to reduce overall household poultry mortality, and increase income from poultry sales amongst small-scale commercial poultry farmers in the Niger Delta. As pointed out earlier, MADE is also focusing on finished leather goods in Aba. MADE is using this intervention to improve the quality, distribution and sales of finished leather goods by supporting competitiveness of locally produced finished leather goods through increasing productivity, improving quality, increasing specialization, or moving from lower paying to higher paying channels.

Given the cross functional and over lapping nature of some of these interventions in the economic lives of the target beneficiaries and the presence of several other development programmes in the Niger Delta, MADE is strengthening its collaboration and partnerships with other development programmes to avoid duplication of efforts in pursuing the Niger Delta regional growth agenda. These programmes including DFID’s GEMS 3 & 4, ENABLE2, PDFll, PropCom, UKTI now DFIT, FOSTER, NSRP, SDN, and CORD.