The day was Monday, the 8 day of February 1988. The time was 6.30 p.m and the venue 3 Queen‚Äôs Drive Ikoyi, Lagos.
Those familiar with Number 3 Queen‚Äôs Drive would probably say, what a bourgeois gathering in the home of the British High Commission in Nigeria.
The gathering was a reception in honour of the Tropical Africa Advisory Group (TAAG) in a mini-mission to Nigeria. Those invited to the reception were mainly a cross section of the British Community in Nigeria, members of the British Diplomatic corps and Nigerians. Of course, some members of the press were in attendance.
As usual with cocktail parties there wee no seats. It was standing but there were drinks for those who cared for it.
From a cross-section discussion with those at the reception, The Republic gathered that Africa‚Äôs Agricultural harvest promotion is the British latest campaign to be held by its TAAG in countries South of the Sahara and North of Limpopo River. In the words of the chairman of Africa‚Äôs Harvest who is the director of Management Africa, Mr. Christor Ambury ‚ÄúOur aim is to promote agricultural expertise business, investment and management technique.
Explaining the membership of the group, he disclosed that TAAG comprises a group of businessmen who work closely with the British Oversees Trade Board and who believe that it is essential to help and encourage the growth of agricultural development and thus the increased production of food.
At the reception on Monday, was Mr. John Stevens, a consultant and chief executives of International Agricultural of knight, Frank and Rutley with a subsidiary in Nigeria as Knight Frank and Rutley Nigeria Limited. Also, present was Peter Biddlecombe an expert on African affairs.
A chat with some of the British businessmen around revealed that there are a number of factors in their opinion mitigating against Africa‚Äôs harvest.
The soil for instance in most of the country is porous and water peculated easily through them. It has, they claim, how clay content that can retain content plant nutrients. This at the end of every cropping season results in low agricultural yields. This they said is the direct contract with the prairies of Canada, the Pampa of Argentina and the agricultural belt of US which are fertile land areas.
Coupled wit this problem of low soil fertility is the pressure in some parts of the country on land, They said too many hands in a small land impoverished the soil more.
What is most disturbing to them is the grazing hands. Most of the vegetable that would protected the soil are usually eaten up by cattle as most of the cattle reared in Nigeria are allowed to go around. In the Nigeria context his land from th reach of moving cattle.
Another expert at the reception believes that though credit availability has a lot to do with the low agricultural productivity in Nigeria. The present small farm holdings produces only for subsistence and not for the market. Commercial farmings are lacking as a result of low capital investment on agriculture. In their opinion the present in interest rates are still too high to allow for successful commercial agriculture in Nigeria.
A World Bank official at the reception disclosed that there is a package of project tied investment coming up soon. The refinancing of most of these new projects will be undertaken sometime this year in the Mambila Plateau.
A number of them agreed that although the enterprises promotion decree was some kind of hindrance to foreign investment it was not the sole factor.
According to them, the international business community is very competitive and investment seek alternatives where they hope t make more profit.
The issue with Nigeria at the institutional investors and international circles is the fear and uncertainty of the safety of investments. Most investors were scared in the past because they were not sure of government policies, the consistency of such policy and their community.
The business experts however expressed optimism on the fact that credibility is gradually is picking up, because foreign businessmen are now gaining confidence in the Nigeria community.
In his opinion, Nigeria should use increasingly mixed croppings and avoid shifting cultivation.
As to ways of attracting foreign investors, the Britons said that the present tariff structure in Nigeria does not give enough protection to local industries. In their opinion, there is no use investing in project whose end products can be imported cheaply to compete with homemade ones. Unless there is enough protection of local business and there is an easier way of repatriating profits, Nigeria will remain unattractive to foreign investors.
According to members of the mini mission they plan to meet parastatals representatives ministers or agriculture or his assistants, the banking sectors, the commercial farming sector and ministers of transport and commerce.
The target of this meeting is to fulfill Africa‚Äôs Harvest main objective that of achieving agricultural self-sufficiency in Africa.
According to the group member of Everyone we talk to will be asked the same question, What are your needs to make you become self-sufficient in agriculture?
The TAAG member will offer farming techniques and way out of improving roads to that maize and wheat can easily be transported to market centre so that in the next season fertilisers can be transported to place of need.