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FOSTERING A FOUNDATION FOR FARMING RESTARTING AGRIBUSINESS-AS-USUAL

May 15, 2013 by

H.E. Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu

H.E. Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu

By H.E. Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu –

We as Nigerians have always taken great pride in finding creative, cross-sectoral solutions to the challenges that we may face as we stride towards prosperity, often tackling issues that seemingly overlap with one another.

For example, it is clear that subscribing to a broader-based educational curriculum is necessary for us in preparing students for life after school, requiring significant change to the current design at the state and federal levels.

Nigeria is also a bountiful nation, rich in resources and entrepreneurial opportunity. Yet with our population swelling year on year and with rural areas ever urbanizing as industry unwaveringly builds, it is clear that our country is increasingly becoming far too dependent on imported goods available to be produced at home. This, much like the disillusionment found in academia leading to our inevitable ‘brain drain’ (where wealthy Nigerians often send their children to Ghana for their studies or abroad to the western world), serves to be a dangerous precedent growing year on year.

With both agricultural and educative curriculum reform on the table, it is obvious that we need effective solutions at both ends that will ultimately provide a working, adaptive infrastructure for children, families and businesses.

I believe it is possible to both inspire the next generation of students to further their academic careers towards their chosen skill-set and at the same time dramatically redefine the unindustrialized outputs of our country.

Though the international community often centers their strategic investment prospects on our capacity to procure crude oil, one must look to both our future generations and concurrently the rural, arable areas where they reside in to not only foster the capitalist spirit but also to build a diversified economy, accomplished ourselves from within.

The Nigerian Central Bank has famously stated that farming accounts for 41% of the national GDP. If one looks to history, we have regularly been and indeed our affiliated companies such as Bende Export Import Limited ( continue to serve Nigeria as one of her largest exporters of non-oil commodities  (including sesame seeds, cassava, cocoa) in the world. Nearly 60% of our 170 million strong are purported to be in the farming industry as it stands today.  We have a budding generation of students, keen to set out across the earth, potentially after receiving a viable post-secondary education at home. Many will hold a feeling of commitment to country and wish to give back, themselves playing a role in restructuring our nation for a new geopolitical era.

So why has our country failed to reach its desired heights in agribusiness? Moreover, how can we not only curb this shift in importation in lieu of abundance, but how can we ‘reset’ the infrastructure while revitalizing our academic curriculum, having the two function with an unprecedented degree of synchronicity like one cohesively ‘well-oiled’ machine?

In the proper context, Nigeria does not face these problems alone. Less than 2% of our continent’s students are studying agriculture. With 648 million mobile phone users in Africa, telecommunication from ‘root to fruit’, from procurement to manufacture to wholesale is still of serious concern. As we reshape our cities, we find we use less and less of our continent’s arable land. This dilemma is one that we as Nigerians can break and perhaps no more efficiently than done so by ourselves.

I broadened my own educational horizons while personally establishing our corporate profile by channeling an industrialist spirit in to sizably open opportunities, much like the potential of African agribusiness today. Our companies also encourage educational reform and through corporate social responsibility programs, seek to nurture the entrepreneurial spirits of tomorrow amidst a rising Africa.

Government initiatives to promote these opportunities tactically and regionally, partnered with an educational curriculum emphasizing a focus on crop development, agricultural technology and facilitating potential internships with established farming organizations are but a few low-cost, low-risk yet high yield alternatives to what is today a rather dated federal framework at both the educational and agricultural tiers.

Appropriate Nigerian civic institutions and indeed the international community can and should play a stepped-up role in providing these alternative programs in order to encourage attention and activity from our growing youth demographic. I commend the Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA) for example, a non-governmental organization working with farmers from across the continent and most recently expanding their scope in Nigeria, for their commitment to fortify activities and approaches in farm management. Today they are also opening doorways at the mid-career level through newly-crafted courses at leading national universities.

Keen businessmen and women, Nigerians ultimately understand and in tandem with innovative initiatives will help teach that profitability is essential for sustained production. Only with energy and effort, perhaps in unlikely yet malleable soil, can one achieve success.

Together, we look to teach important life lessons and rouse our next generation of farmers to adhere to ethical best practices. We will strengthen the correlation between an academic career and a professional one while at the same time taking measured but dedicated steps towards not just agribusiness prosperity but indeed restoring a Nigerian pattern of global stewardship and ‘supply’ for the foreseeable future.

The author is the former Governor of Abia State, Nigeria and Principal of SLOK Group Nigeria

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