“It is our belief that the neglect and the perceived deliberate underdevelopment of the sector (i.e. agriculture) portends a great danger for the future of the country, most especially with the realisation that the population of the country is expected to reach the 200-million mark in the next 25 years and with about 60 per cent of these expected to be within the 20 – 40 years age bracket.” Gbenga Ibikunle, Executive Director, BAT Nigeria

Gbenga Ibikunle was speaking at a seminar on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) recently organised by BusinessDay newspaper in Lagos. His presentation did not end with this prediction of socio-economic gloom that could befall the country if the right kind of attention is not given to agriculture.

He lamented that a country like ours blessed with the largest arable land in Sub-Saharan Africa, which should have served as a platform for advancing economic and social growth is not just pitiably poor, but helplessly a net importer of food.

He said it is baffling that despite the enormous potentials and the comparative advantage we have in agriculture, no serious efforts are being made to develop the sector and use it to achieve economic prosperity. Successive governments in Nigeria, according to him, merely paid lip service to agriculture and the few attempts made at developing the sector were not holistic enough to achieve anything meaningful.

Ibikunle then told his audience that it was the realization of the huge potentials and promise that agriculture holds for development and poverty reduction in our country that motivated BATN Foundation, set up in November 2002, to make sector a major area of its CSR intervention in Nigeria. The Foundation’s intervention strategies were based on its understanding of the problems associated with agricultural development in Nigeria which include, lack of access to improved farm inputs; new adoptable agricultural technologies; storage facilities; marketing and finance.

Having long identified these areas where intervention would impact profoundly and holistically on the sector, Ibikunle noted that his Foundation’s approach to agricultural development is such that would help reduce rural poverty. One of the strategies the Foundation has introduced in this regard is what he calls “Agricultural Technology Transfer and Capacity Building.” This involves introduction of new and improved technologies which are adaptable and easily adoptable.

It also involves the provision of improved agro-inputs; post harvest training; storage and market intelligence. Under this scheme farmers are selected and grouped, on-farm field trainings are conducted and inputs distributed at the beginning of the farming season. All of these are cost evaluated and each farmer is made to know the cost implication of the farm enterprise per hectare.

Upon harvesting and marketing, the benefiting farmers pool their earnings in a group bank account in preparation for the following season. This is repeated over a period of the farming seasons and by the time the Foundation is pulling out there is enough financial resources to make the program continue on a sustainable basis. Communities in Oyo, Niger, Ebonyi, Kaduna and Kebbi states have already benefited from this scheme.

The other approach Ibikunle discussed is the “Value Adding and Value Chain Development.” Given the fact that agricultural produce are highly perishable and if wastages and subsequent loss of revenue are to be prevented some form of farm level processing and value adding must be promoted. This is being pursued through the establishment of cottage processing industries for cassava and palm oil which will enhance farmers’ income and increase productivity.

In the last nine years, BATN Foundation has established 14 cassava and palm oil processing cottage industries in 11 states. This in turn has stimulated the growth of other downstream industries that locally fabricate agricultural equipment and seed/seedlings production. The inclusion of water component in the processing facilities have also created another value chain as the rural communities now have access to clean water and opportunities to set up businesses that are highly dependent on water such as food vending, hair dressing etc.

The third approach is the “Agro-Forestry Development.” According to Ibikunle, this initiative involves the development of tree crop plantation to support the Federal Government in its fight against desert encroachment. He said the debilitating effect of climate change and its attendant negative effects on soil fertility, biodiversity and agricultural productivity have assumed a dangerous dimension in the country. The initiative therefore is aimed at ameliorating the negative effects of deforestation.

So far, the Foundation has established tree plantations in 10 northern states since 2004 in addition to the annual tree planting campaign in Oyo state which commenced in 2007 and has led to the establishment of tree plantations in 4 local governments in the state. Ibikunle callsations to replicate the modest strides the Foundation has taken in these areas so that the country can be better for it.

 

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