Agra Innovate advocates technology-driven agribusiness

The need to promote agriculture and agri-business to equip farmers in Nigeria and beyond with adequate technical, technological information on farming and processing was the focal point at the sixth annual Agra Innovate West Africa exhibition which had in attendance exhibitors and stakeholders from 20 countries including participants from Nigeria.

Exhibitors and attendees were drawn from Africa, Europe, Asia and the United State of America to share knowledge and collectively tackle challenges confronting farmers as well as create linkage opportunities for stakeholders in agriculture sector.

Agra Innovate West Africa, the sixth of its kind was organised by Informa Connect in partnership with Contact Consulting Nigeria.

The 2-day event which was held in Lagos was themed “Identifying opportunities in agricultural value chains, for sustainable intensification of production systems, to enhance food security and export capacity in West Africa.”

Speaking on the uniqueness of this year’s event, the event’s programme Director, Mrs Foluso Olaniyan disclosed that this year’s exhibition features not less than 50 agri-business and experts from international organisations to discuss the theme and various sub-themes at the exhibition.

“Agra Innovate West Africa is an exhibition and conference that kicked off in Nigeria in 2014 and funded by Informa Konnect in Dubai in partnership with Contact Consulting Nigeria” she explained.

The platform, a meeting point for stakeholders in agri-business in Nigeria and beyond, Mrs Olaniyan who is the CEO of Contact Consulting Nigeria disclosed that is intended to create linkage opportunities from the farm to processors, retailers and wholesalers.

She stated further that it is designed to promote agriculture and the wealth of agriculture business in Nigeria.

On the reasons for the exhibition, she said, “The event was put together following our realisation that farmers in Nigeria incurred losses on their harvest for the fact that they don’t have direct access to the market where they can sell their products at a premium to transform their lives.

According to her, the exhibition is to link farmers with the best market; to link processors with the best buyers and to share technical and technological information on how farming and processing can be done to be more profitable to increase the wealth of farmers in West Africa.

This year’s exhibition is special because not less than 50 agri-business and Food and Beverage, young innovative value chain development experts, with diversity in gender, nationality and academic discipline are partnering with us and other international organisations to adequately address this year’s theme.”

Since the ban placed on the importation of goods from the neighbouring countries, food supply, especially rice which is a staple food in Nigeria has been in short supply.

However, the ban has generated diverse opinions. While some see it as a selfish move by the government, others described it as a step in the right direction.

Commenting on the impact of the ban on food production, Alhaji Kabir Ibrahim, National President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN disclosed that the ban has led to an increase in the demand for local farm produce. has been on the increase.

While urging farmers in the country to grow what the country’s need, Alhaji Kabir argues that no country that is import dependent is self-sufficient in food supply.

He said, “Our borders are for the moment closed because our neighbouring countries do not have our interest at heart. They allow smugglers to import rice into the country illegally without paying tariff. This is what the government is trying to check.

Consequently, Nigerian farmers are happy as the demand for our farm produce is very high. Agri-business is now more attractive reason many people, especially, the youth are going into farming.

It therefore amazes me when people say that the country is experiencing food insecurity. For crying out loud, we are self-sufficient. What we need do is to cultivate the habit of eating what we produce and produce what we eat.

Recently, I was in Zambia. Their staple is maize and they make many things out of it and eat. But here in Nigeria, we have made rice our staple.

Gone are the days when we eat rice only during festive periods. We need to start patronising our locally made food. If we think that our food in Nigeria are not good enough and that imported foods are better, then we have a problem at our hands.

We cannot say because there is insufficiency of a particular food, there is food insufficiency in the country. We have to make do with what we have. We should eat what we grow and grow what we eat.”

Buttressing the position of Alhaji Kabir, Mrs Olaniyan said the challenge of food insufficiency in the country is non-natural.

According to her, it lies in the way food is processed and produced.

She said, “There isn’t food insufficiency in the country, rather our problems lie in the way food is processed and produced.

If we are able to convert most of the food that go to waste to consumption then food security would improve. We have a lot of arable land in Nigeria.

We have a lot of fruits and vegetables but the truth is, once you harvest, we realise that from the time of harvest to sales, almost 40 per cent is lost because of poor storage facility.

So teaching farmers on best practice that will help them convert this waste to wealth will help reduce the shortage of food and we think by exposing them to modern facilities to achieve this, Agra Innovate is helping the nation to move forward.”

In her efforts to meet up with the challenges of the corresponding increase in demand for food supply, Lagos State, according to the State Commissioner for Agriculture, Prince Gbolahan Lawal said the mission of his ministry is to explore agriculture both as a business and platform of development.

He said, “Lagos State undoubtedly has a comparative advantage in the mainstream sector of agriculture; agricultural produce marketing in particular, because of her population.

Despite previous efforts on the upgrade of Agricultural produce markets, it generally remains unorganised with produce being openly displayed mostly in an unhygienic manner.

There is therefore a need for a positive shift from this unhealthy and wasteful system to an efficient, neat and very organised market system.

In delivering change and acting as a change driver, the State Government is carrying out an upgrade of the Agricultural Supply Chain by reconnecting all the agricultural chains with their markets through the establishment of the Eko City Farmers’ Market.”

Dignitaries at the event include Honourable Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Ambassador Mariam Yalwaji Katagum was special guest of honour, Commissioner for Agriculture, Lagos State Hon. Gbolahan Lawal was also a special guest at the event while keynote address was delivered by the Managing Director of Sterling Bank, Mr Abubakar Sulaiman.