IN 20 days time, the 35th Kaduna International Trade Fair will hold in the state. Dr. Abdul Alimi Bello is the President of Kaduna Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, the organiser of the yearly exhibitions. He spoke with Vanguard about the thrust of this year’s edition, their preparations so far and what is new for local and international exhibitor, among other issues.
What is the purpose of your visit today?
We want to thank you for the supports you have been giving the chamber in all its activities, particularly during its annual international trade fairs. We want to request for such continuous cooperation especially now that the chamber is coming up with a number of issues with the aim of promoting the business environment of our great community.
The purpose of our coming here today is to inform you about the preparations for the 35th Kaduna international trade fair. The preparations have commenced; the fair is scheduled to start from February 21st to 2nd march 2014, at the usual venue -Kaduna International Trade and Investment Centre, Zaria Road, Rigachikun.
Our theme for this year is ‘Agriculture Transformation. For Industrial Development: Public Private Partnership Approach. This theme was chosen by the Council of the chamber to reflect on the country’s over dependence on oil as more or less the only source of revenue sustaining our economy despite enormous potentials available in other areas particularly agriculture.
“We try as much as possible to always choose a theme that relates to the current realities. Recall that the theme of last year’s fair (34th) was on combating security challenges.
In arriving at a choice of this year’s theme, we considered the expressed concerns and discussions on the country’s over dependence on oil as more or less the only source of revenue sustaining our economy despite enormous potentials available in other areas particularly agriculture. It is therefore the position of the chamber that focus should shift to agriculture and industrialisation.
The opening ceremony for this year’s fair will be on Saturday February 22nd in honour of our exhibitors.
Our presence in your office today is to request for your usual support and cooperation by giving the trade fair activities the much needed publicity both before and during the trade fair periods.
Editors, on behalf of my team and the chamber, I once again thank you for your time and I hope we are going to have a mutual and rewarding relationship. Thank you very much.
What is the essence of the quiz competition and who are the targets?
You just said something about the future readers of your newspaper; that they are generations yet unborn. As a form of corporate social responsibility, what can the chamber do to create awareness among secondary school students in the 19 Northern states? So the essence of the quiz competition is our social responsibility for the educational sector of the economy in these states. It is supposed to add value to the educational sector.
This year’s competition will be the fourth in the series. We also have a one day seminar on the theme of the fair. At the seminar we are expecting General Theophilus . Y. Danjuma, retired; former minister of Defence, Prof Ango Abdullahi, former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University/ former Special Assistant to the President on Food and Security. The event comes up on Monday February 24 at the conference Hall of the trade fair. On Tuesday 25th we intend to have interactive session with major stakeholders in the financial sector. It is scheduled to hold in the evening at Hamdala Hotel. Again, in evening of March 2, there will be a farewell dinner in honour of our exhibitors.
Most of the products at our intentional trade fairs are imported, why are you not using the platform to promoter domestic products?
I am happy the Chairman, Organising Committee, Alhaji Awwalu Markafi, is here. He shall respond to that question. He has been in contact with so many manufacturers locally and outside the county.
He has been working round the clock and I would like him to add a word. To a very large extent, you and I and other persons know the situation of the economy.
Generally, our market is flooded with foreign products and what you see at the trade fairs is a reflection of the economy.
Many people think trade fairs are platform to buy and sell. This is very wrong. In reality, trade fairs are forum where ideas are exchanged; it is a place where you explore investment opportunities that are available in a country; it gives you information about what is available here and there.
The chamber serves as bridge between our members, the government, manufacturers in Nigeria as well as those that are coming from outside the country. So, we are yet to be where we should be; a lot of the time, people see trade fairs as a place to display and sell items. We allow that to happen now because it adds glamour to the fair. If this feature is not there, people are not likely to come. So, your observation is very right. It is a reflection of our society.
What value will this year’s fair adds to the economy?
As you could see from the theme we have chosen this year, Agriculture Transformation for Industrial Development, it was deliberate because last year, for instance, the theme was combating security challenges because last year we were at the height of security challenges particularly to Boko Haram issue and it is our voice to look at the situation on ground and formulate the theme along that line to refuse at the reality on the ground. Having attained reasonable peace, what Nigerians are concerned today is go to farm. Generally in Kaduna and even in Maiduguri, Adamawa and Yobe before this time, the situation has been more or less normal for now.
A year ago, the situation was so bad that we postponed the fair. This year, we never have security issues. When you are bring local and international people to attend your fair you have to do everything possible to protect their lives and property. Coming back to the issue of the theme, there has been a lot of discussions on Federal Government’s Agric Transformation Agenda. Nigeria basically is an Agriculture society. We have the land which is fertile and we have the population. And in almost each state in the country, there is one resources or the other than can grow very well and meet the demand of local consumption and even exporting it to other countries.
There is no doubt about it. Every state has agric potentials. And now that there have been so much discussion on the Agric issue, we feel that we have to beyond these discussions by motivating Nigerians to go back to Agriculture. We believe if Agriculture is given the due attention and you have mass production, our commercial farming, I can tell you this country will be better. I can tell you even if you want to export; it is not everything you export.
That is why we feel if Agriculture is transformed it will lead to industrialisation. Kano and Kaduna are where a lot of tomatoes are produced. But these are perishable items and they need very few days to move them to the market. Now that we don’t have railway, they take them in vehicle to the market and by the time they get to the places like Lagos, half of the tomatoes would have spoil. This is because we do not have means of processing them in kano and Kaduna. We believe if we have to achieve agric transformation, we have to collaborate. Government have to collaborate with farmers and other stakeholders and look at how we can get a better result, particularly on the issues of production- how did you process what we produce? We all have the responsibility to more Nigeria forward.
Sometimes in the past, the multinationals like UAC were the first to go back into agriculture with a view for backward integration. I was part of the team that set up UAC farm. At that time, the manufacturing sector was competing in the open market. The then government asked what we can do to encourage the manufacturers. UAC had their farm in Kaduna state; Nestle in Niger and Nigeria Breweries. This led government to grant multinationals single digit loan to encourage the multinationals. You asked what happened. By the time the federal government established the commercial agricultural credit guarantee scheme, I asked the Minister of Agriculture what his focus is. He said the large scale farmers will access loan at single digit – but have we sat down to find out what affected the multinationals- why did all of them abandon their farms? What happened? This is deliberate.
When I was farming in UAC Farm, despite our serious mechanization and investment what we could get was three to four tons of maize per hectare but when we traveled to South Africa, a single farmer harvests 10 to 12 tons of maize per hectare, while we were struggling to harvest four tons and we are a member of WTO, World Trade Organisation. Why are we not getting 10-12 tons of maize per hectare? This is an example of areas where we need to give emphasis to, and be able to move forward. What is happening is a disease-reliance on a mono-economy.
How far are you collaborating with the Agric Minister, Dr. Adewunmi Adesina on agric transformation?
Well, I have a one on one discussion with him and I told him- I hope and I pray you would be able to take the Transformation Agenda to a peak of no return. This is because our country has been consistently in consistent in policy summersaults. Do you understand what I meant? If you stand for 5 to 10 minutes with Dr. Adesina , you will be convinced he has what it takes to transform this sector. I participated in some of his agenda and I am waiting for stakeholder’s meeting. Each time we write him, he gave us audience. In fact, what we have done in Kaduna chamber is not only to carry out annual international trade fair, we have introduced some other things so that we get engage in activities all round the year.
Agriculture fairs, which is another thing we will be doing. We shall invite you when it kicks off in the year. The minister is even looking forward to the actualisation of such fairs. I was in the southern part of Brazil recently. If you could recall, Brazil was one of the worst nations –their monetary policy, everything was bad. They used to be the highest debtor to the IMF. But now Brazil has a very strong economy. They are even creditor to IMF now. They borrow IMF money.
The farmer I slept in his house has an abattoir. On an average, he slaughters not less than 1000 heads of cattle’s a day. Do you think we cannot do it? We are coming to that one day. There are so many things we need to do. Whether we like it or not, we will be forced to go back to the farm and I kept on saying one thing -God has given us abundant land. There are just one or two things to do if only we put the interests of the national first above our personal interest. It is not that we can’t do it.
Do you still farm?
Yes, of course but not commercial farming. I manufacturer things that are agric related. I manufacture animal feeds.
What is your position on the current fertilizer policy?
On a serious note, we have policies that are never consistent. Let me tell you a typical example of what happened when we started UAC Farm. It was 5,000 hectares of land. In fact, fertilizerr applications were done by aircraft. What happened that time is that government controlled fertiliser. You pay your money in advance and when it comes to the time for planting they give you the fertilser. Either you go and collect it from Minna or Port Harcourt or else destination which government controls. We paid money this year around November /December against coming planting season. Did you know we have not gotten the fertilizer and here we are- we have spent a lot of money on land preparations? We have spent millions of naira and above waiting for fertiliser .
We can’t afford to fail to farm that year.
That is what we called window planting. There is a particular hectare you must cover for you to breakeven. If you invest, say, N5 million, you must be able to cover 2000 hectares and if you don’t and there is a period between which you must do your planting because rain in the north comes at a particular time. If you plant maize, it requires 140 days of consistent rain but if the rain stopped at a particular period in the year and the maize didn’t get enough water, you are in trouble. Count yourself as a loser-you have lost money.That is why the present minister of Agriculture took away fertilizer distribution from the government to the private sector.
Another thing you want to ask yourself is the level of nutrients in the soil. From our social study or Integrated Science, if you plant something here in Lagos or at Iseyin, it can grow but it requires a particular nutrient for tit to grow well. Soil has nutrients but not all soil has complete nutrient. That is why you have to find out which nutrient the soil is lacking and then you add fertilizer. But how many of take time to find out which nutrient is deficient in a particular soil, and what quantity is needed?
Not only that, the fund that government said they are making available to farmers- are they really available? They make the loans condition so difficult for farmers to access.
These are things we want to look at and that is why we are organizing the seminar; we want a situation whereby the next agric minister continues from where Adewunmi stops and not to somersault the policy he introduced. If we have consistent policy the banks will put their money in agric projects with the hope of getting their money back.
Annual trade fairs are still generalized where as in other parts of the world trade fairs are specialized. What are you doing to move away from generalized fairs?
Have you been to Kaduna International Trade Fair Complex? It is good you go there and see things yourself. The complex is second to none; it is sitting on 1,500 hectares of land we have built –in exhibition halls like those ones in Germany and China. One thing is that Gernmany and China are far older than Nigeria. We will get there someday; things are improving gradually and we will get there.