USAID, others embrace LAKAJI programme

…to boost agric, investment in Nigeria

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) at the weekend pulled together global and local experts and financiers to discuss the huge socio-economic benefits of the Lagos-Kano-Jibiya (LAKAJI) Agricultural Growth Corridor Investment project to Nigeria, as part of its renewed commitment to give additional impetus to the country’s current drive towards optimising her agricultural and other resources’ endowments.

The initiative, which is to be implemented within the context of the Nigeria Expanded Trade and Transport Programme (NEXTT) policy framework, could not have come at a more auspicious time than now when dwindling earnings from hydrocarbon resources export occasioned by recent supply-demand convulsions at the international oil markets are undermining Nigeria’s efforts at achieve macroeconomic stability and sustainable growth.

Indeed, the LAKAJI agenda may well become one of the most practical steps towards building the needed infrastructure and other policy-supporting facilities that will help the Federal Government to transform the touted economic diversification agenda from the realm of mere political sloganeering to concrete realities.

Yes, the policies to transform the economic diversification agenda may not have been lacking if the policy statistics being reeled out at public fora over the last three years by the inimitable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Olusegun Aganga, are anything to go by. But the realities suggest clearly that the capacity to grow the non-oil sector in terms of adequate infrastructure and enabling environment for private investments is lacking still.

Even when the Federal Government’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) is believed to have recorded remarkable success given the level of foreign and local investments attracted and farmers’ goodwill and support, the challenge of infrastructure has been a major hurdle yet to harnessing the huge potentials of the agricultural sector for broad-based socio-economic gains.

For instance, it is estimated that over 40 per cent of farm produce perishes before they get to the market while less than 30 per cent eventually get consumed or processed.

For a country whose agricultural sector is accounted to be contributing about 44 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with the potential that the contributions could be raised higher if the needed infrastructure and private sector support are secured, the LAKAJI agribusiness adventure could only serve as a catalytic endeavour that would help in addressing the lingering challenges of huge losses associated with post-harvest experiences of farmers and paucity of infrastructure decay constraining ongoing drives to reposition the non-oil sector as the mainstay of the economy.

Speaking at the opening session of the two-day LAKAJI Investment Summit, the representative of Carana Corporation, USAID contractor for the project, Dr. Mina Nedelcovych, said the project was designed to assist the Nigerian government’s efforts to expand trade volume and efficiency within the ECOWAS region and beyond, so that trade, particularly in agricultural products, can generate inclusive economic growth and development.

Nedelcovych, who said the USAID intervention which would span four years and be managed, supervised, and implemented the company, pointed out that the agency’s partnership with Nigeria Expanded Trade and Transport Program (NEXTT), should not be seen by Nigeria as turning the United States Government into a burden bearer but rather a concerned ally that is really committed to helping Nigeria realise her dream of building the bedrock of her development on agriculture.

He therefore urged the Federal Government to concentrate more on building efficient transport and logistics, workable rail system, power, warehouse and storage and enabling policies that would encourage local investments.

According to him, the LAKAJI business corridor has a huge market that would have direct impact on over 67 million Nigerians and presents the opportunity for Nigeria to transform the agricultural value chain in such a way would reduce to the barest level the rate of wastages in farm produce and improve their value at the domestic and export markets.

The LAKAJI corridor initiative builds on the United States Government previous support to improve trade efficiency in Nigeria. Outcomes of previous US engagement include the development of improved custom service legislation, strengthened risk management with the Nigeria custom service and update food safety testing with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC.

The corridor links key production and processing zones for strategic imports and exports through the Lagos ports. For instance, in the North the corridor arches towards Niamey, Niger and the Sahel interior of West Africa and registers about 30 million tons of goods transported each year, a figure which accounts over one-half of the country’s inland freight.

“All along the corridor, we have analyzed and identified significant investment opportunities that are like ripe fruits, just waiting to be picked”, Nedelcovych said.

In his remarks, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga, said the investment efforts to create the LAKAJI corridor would complement sundry economic and investment moves by the Federal Government targeted at strengthening existing infrastructure to support productive activities at all sectors of the economy.

Citing some of the policy measures being put in place by government to enlist the support of private investors for the ongoing transformation agenda, Aganga agreed that the LAKAJI project would help in bridging one of the most critical gaps in the ATA value chain, namely the infrastructure link upon which agro-processing and other post-harvest activities is dependent.

He said: ‘Let me say that the country has done very well, through the efforts of my brother and Minister of Agriculture, Adesina in opening the sector for investments over the past two years. In addition to reaching out to farmers through the GES and other channels, the ATA has continued to attract global attention with commensurate private investors’ commitment to invest in the country.

“One of the problems we have identified which the LAKAJI project will help in addressing is post-harvest wastages. Production is not the issue, the issue is making sure what is produced first of all doesn’t get wasted “that is when” it is properly and efficiently moved to the consumers”, Aganga said.

In a similar tone, Ambassador (rtd) Martin Brennan, explained the new initiative was part of the US President’s pledge for a new focus in investment in Africa and the need of the US Government to engage in a continent full of promises of which Nigeria has a high and compelling stakes.

The former diplomat identified agriculture as one of the ways open to Nigeria’s sustainable and inclusive economic growth, adding that recent studies show that for every 1 per cent increase in agriculture GDP, the number of people living in extreme poverty decreases by 0.6 and 1.8 per cent.

Brennan said: “In Nigeria, the agriculture sector is the single greatest creator of jobs providing employment for 70 per cent of the population. As agribusiness investors tap into Nigeria’s domestic market, they are accelerating job creation, jobs that can absorb the growing labour force and empower a new generation of ‘Agro-preneurs”

While noting that high cost of transportation of goods from the southern part to the Northern part of the country is 25 per cent higher than transporting goods in some parts of the US and 100 per cent higher in some other areas of the US, the former envoy said Nigeria can do better in her efforts to leverage growth through the ATA but that the inflated time and cost of transport along the LAKAJI corridor are delays and inefficiencies that are undermining the achievements of the agenda.

The corridor cuts across Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Kwara, Niger, Kaduna, Kano and Katsina.

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