The African Development Bank (AfDB) said that the newly launched Agro-Industrial Processing Zones in Nigeria has the potential to solve the country’s poverty, hunger and foreign exchange challenges. In an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Prof. Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka, Special Adviser on Industrialisation to the President of the AfDB, said if properly harnessed, the impact of the project will save millions of Nigerian who have been projected to suffer severe hunger and poverty. The Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones programme, a $538 million initiative, is expected to bring economic infrastructure to rural areas of high agricultural potential. The zones which will take up 19 per cent of Nigeria’s land mass are expected to attract private agro-industrialist and entrepreneur investment, and benefit over 50 million Nigerians across the six geo political zones.
The 538 million dollar funding is made up funds from the AfDB, Africa Growing Together Fund and the Islamic Development Bank as wells as funds from Federal and State governments. Oyelaran-Oyeyinka also said that the project had the potential to stop food importation to Nigeria and also get the nation to scale up its own food exportation. “If all we do in the next couple of years is to ensure that Nigeria doesn’t import food any more, that will be great achievement, but ultimately we want to also export. A country’s growth sustainability is set by how much you also are able to sell to others, not just importing from others. When you keep importing and you found out that the urban population has been growing, the taste of people is changing and people are demanding for more sophisticated goods, but there is no foreign exchange. So we feel that the problem of FOREX will also be solved by this, we should expand the basket of our foreign currency income not just manage the demand, because what we’ve been doing in this country is managing the demand, trying to, who want this, you give 10 percent to this one, 100 percent to this and all of that.
“We want to be able to convert cassava to industrial starch, we want to be able to convert cassava to high quality flour, convert cocoa to cocoa powder and chocolate, and mind you all of that value chain also employing people. This is the different between those who get rich and those who remain poor,” he said. He exemplified the potential of agriculture by comparing Nigeria’s total oil exports in 2019 which stood at less than 40 billion dollars to Vietnam’s over 40 billion dollar accruals from export of black pepper, Cashew and three other crops in the same year. He therefore pointed out that the Vietnam example was the direction the AfDB was headed with the new initiative launched in Nigeria. So this is where we are driving, and I believe with the entrepreneurial speed of Nigeria, the hardworking people, if we give them the chance, they will do it, we will do it. So we believe that this is a turning point for our country. COVID-19 has shown us that you cannot outsource your happiness, your security both food and health to other people, to do that will be foolishness.
“We are begging for this, begging for that, begging for food during COVID, begging for vaccine, when we have all our God given assets right here in Nigeria,” he said. He however clarified that these impacts were going to be felt more from the next 24 months and beyond as the initiative will require time for construction and development. He said time will be required to put in place roads, irrigation system, water, sanitation and power system, but stressed that these construction will also bring about employments. He said that the project will also ensure construction of drying and processing facilities to curb post-harvest losses adding that there will also be processes factories so farmers are encouraged to produce as much as they can. “Once all of these are built, we feel confident and our estimate is that it going to touch about 50 million people, that is counting both direct and indirect employment.
“So it is an evolutionary process, how it plays out depends on how quickly we are able to do it and this is really where we need our people to do this The first phase of the project will be implemented in eight states across the six geo- political zones, targeting specific agro products selected by the states. The states include: Cross River State – cocoa, rice and cassava; FCT – beef and dairy livestock; Imo State – beef and dairy livestock; Kaduna State – tomato, maize and ginger; Kano State – rice, tomato, groundnuts and sesame oil; Kwara State – livestock; Ogun State – cassava, rice, poultry and fisheries and Oyo State – cassava, soybean, rice. (NAN)