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Business News of Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Source: thenationonlineng.net

Deploying agric to drive development

Agricultural business Agricultural business

Agriculture plays a major role in development. There are international and local efforts to make it drive economic recovery, create employment and put food on the table at stable prices, DANIEL ESSIET reports. The agri-food sector is key to growth in Africa. It contributes millions of dollars yearly to economies on the continent and employs millions of residents.

While the sector’s performance is critical to households’ well-being, analysts say it also boosts government revenue.

For instance, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) noted that while the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), representing a market of 1.2 billion consumers, holds the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty and end chronic food insecurity in Africa, its success rests on the agriculture sector.

As economies in Africa have emerged from COVID-19, stakeholders believe it is important that policymakers provide the most conducive conditions for the agri-food industry to rebuild itself. That, according to them, would allow the industry to continue to provide the benefits it has been delivering over decades.

At the High-Level Virtual Dialogue-Feeding Africa: Leveraging existing and successful innovations, organised by the African Development Bank (AfDB), International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), Consultative Group for International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) and Forum for Agricultural Research (FARA), experts sought better strategies that could boost food production domestically.

They also canvassed initiatives that encourage the utilisation of automation and digitalisation in the agriculture sector, especially among small and medium enterprises as well as individual farmers.

True, a coalition of multilateral development banks and development partners pledged over $17 billion in financing to tackle rising hunger and improve food security.

Also, 17 African Heads of State agreed to commit to boosting agricultural production by doubling productivity levels, through the scaling up of agro-technologies, investing in access to markets, and promoting agricultural research and development.

Of the amount pledged, more than $10 billion came from AfDB, which said it would invest $1.57 billion on scaling up 10 selected priority commodities over the next five years. This will help countries achieve self-sufficiency. Another $8.83 billion from the bank will go towards building strong value chains over the next five years. This will include programmes to create opportunities for young people – particularly women.

Having appreciated the magnitude of the challenges bedevilling the sector, AfDB’s President Dr Akinwumi Adesina said a stronger partnership was necessary to support the distribution of emerging technologies and innovations to millions of farmers scattered across the continent.

AfDB, IFAD, FARA and the CGIAR System Organisation pledged to work with African leaders to transform and modernise Africa’s food production.

For them, enhanced productivity, integrated value chains and economies of scale were at the heart of Africa’s food security challenge.

While the transformation of the food systems has become critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Chief Executive, Wandieville Media, Yewande Kazeem, emphasised that achieving this would not be possible without encouraging young people to take leading roles in the campaign.

She talked about her experience when she visited and engaged with entrepreneurs and youths across the continent. Her words: “They all have the same challenges. They need access to finance. Farmers need support to process nutritious foods. Finance to invest in appropriate technologies to scale and increase business efficiency.”

Addressing African Presidents on empowering youths at the event,   Kazeem, called for functional plans to lure youths to drive innovation as part of the long-term initiative to strengthen the sector.

As the continent looks to developing a new sector of agri-technology, she urged the government to bring youths into high-tech farming and research and development.

According to her, a good innovation climate, strong talent base, reputation for food safety and strategic positioning would help Africa to recapture a big slice of the food industry.

As a new generation of technopreneur farmers is emerging, she expects institutes of higher learning to introduce more courses to equip students with skills for the sector.

She said: “Our youths are hardworking, creative, innovative, smart and ready to work. We just need a business-friendly environment. We see the potential and opportunities that exist in the continent. We are ready to feed Africa and the rest of the world. The world is ready for Africa; the question is: are we ready for the world?”

Another point, she noted was that women farmers are ‘essential’ for the future. She maintained that there are still barriers in the way and a lack of support for their entry into the profession.

In Nigeria, analysts say, agriculture has the potential to advance the country’s growth.

This, according to them, was achievable provided there was increased adoption of new technologies by farmers across all sectors.

In support of this, stakeholders had come up with several initiatives geared towards improving food security and championing agricultural development.

One of such interventions is the yearly Research-Extension-Farmers-Input-Linkage-System (REFILS) exercise organised by the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IART), a subsidiary of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU).

It focused on-farm productivity, harvest and post-harvest losses, trade performance, quality of produce, small-scale processing and farm and value chain operations – at both an institutional and production level.

IART has been deploying technology to assist the scaling up of the production of food crops.

Currently, losses in the nation’s agriculture, both in terms of quantity and quality are high ranging from 20-40 per cent mainly because of poor harvest and post-harvest management.

There have been efforts by local food value chain experts, working alongside the Federal Government to drive agricultural transformation aimed at boosting the country’s economy.

Meanwhile, last month the 2020/2021 Annual-In-House Review Exercise/33rd Southwest Zonal Research Extension Farmers Input Linkage System (REFILS) workshop held in IART, Oyo State. It brought together the agricultural developments programmes, farmers, private organisations and researchers in the Southwest for an evaluation of research output and impacts on the region.

Stakeholders looked at converting agriculture from a supply-driven to a demand-oriented sector that could compete in the national and international markets through vertical integration rather than horizontal expansion of value chain activities.

Nevertheless, Nigeria faces the onslaught of climate change. Speaking at the event, the Vice-Chancellor (VC), Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Prof. Eyitope Ogungbenro Ogunbodede, stressed the need to build climate resilience and leave countries and communities more vulnerable to future shocks.

Ogunbodede, who is Chairman, IART, spoke about climate change as one major threat with changes to weather patterns and extremity having adverse impacts on food crops productivity and challenging the livelihoods of farmers.

He noted that the Southwest and other parts of the country had been vulnerable to the impacts of severe weather-related events and food insecurity.

With climate change affecting food production, he continued, that it was time to focus on making food markets more resilient to climate shocks.

He urged researchers to rise to the challenge by developing technologies to mitigate the effects of extreme climatic events on agriculture and rural livelihoods.

He added that a multi-stakeholder approach is vital to addressing food security and rural livelihoods.

According to the Vice-Chancellor, efforts must be put in place to find solutions to the incessant clashes among farmers and herdsmen, as   “climate change, COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the clashes between farmers and herdsmen required a new approach so as to tackle food insufficiency in the country”.

“The issues of climate change, friction between farmers and herdsmen and indeed COVID-19 pandemic have affected agricultural research and productivity and required a new approach to research and development,” he said.

Director-General, Oyo  State Agribusiness Development Agency (OYSADA), Dr Debo Akande, emphasised the need for inter-sectoral cooperation and coordination, including greater participation of the private sector, research and development institutions, farmers and non-governmental organisation as the key to agricultural transformation.

Akande said agribusiness entrepreneurship remains the potential driver to the economy and poverty alleviation in the country.

He said IAR&T, being one of the foremost National Agricultural Research Institutes in Nigeria, is living up to its mandate in enhancing farming systems and developing improved technologies and outstanding improved varieties of many common staples.

He said agriculture is taking its position as an important contributor to the economy with a strong awareness of the entrepreneurship potentials in the agricultural sector, generally referred to as agribusiness.

“Agribusiness entrepreneurship remains one of the most important potential drivers of the economy and is closely related to poverty alleviation.

“Decades of policy reform, agricultural restructuring, and the growth of vertical integration within the food and agri-business industries have reshaped the sector greatly, unveiling its enormous potential and creating a leeway in tackling the problem of poverty both in rural and urban areas,” he said.

At the forum, Lagos State Agricultural Development Authority (LSADA) got the ‘Outstanding Agricultural Development Agency of the Year award. It was presented by the Director-General, Oyo State Agricultural Development Authority, Dr Debo Akande.

Receiving the plaque from the institute, the Programme Manager, LASDA, Dr Olalekan Pereira-Sheteolu, said the award, which came barely days after the launch of the five-year Agricultural Development roadmap by the Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, would spur the authority to greater accomplishments.

He said the recognition could not have been possible but for the ongoing overhauling of the entire agricultural value chain by the governor.

The Programme Manager, however, thanked Mr Sanwo-Olu for his support and for making the award a reality. He dedicated it to staff members, who have worked to move the agency to an enviable position.

Sheteolu said the agency has been involved in the implementation of interventions that would improve sector performance out.

These include improvement of rural infrastructure for market access, increasing food supply, technology dissemination and adoption and complying with commitments on enhancing agricultural development.

According to him, LASDA is focused on long-range development is intended to help defeat hunger and poverty, mainly by creating more opportunities for small-scale farmers in the rural areas to earn a good living.

He reiterated that the priority for the agency is increasing agricultural productivity on small farms by helping farmers to explore advantages of superior feeds, fertiliser use, pesticide integration into markets, rural roads, credit facilities, among others.

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