Idowu Asenuga is the convener of West Africa Agribusiness Show scheduled to hold in Lagos in February 2020. In this interview by NURUDEEN ALIMI and ROTIMI IGE, he lists reasons a paradigm shift in West Africa agribusiness has become imperative.
CAN you share with us the crux of the forthcoming agriculture event you are coordinating?
The event is called West Africa Agribusiness Show (WAAS) and it is coming up between February 18 and 20, 2020, in Lagos. I would want to start with why WAAS? I have attended several events globally in Europe, Asia and America. There is always the quest of having something similar here at home. But unfortunately, it is not like there is nothing similar here but what you find out is that the event in this category are usually organised by Europeans in Nigeria.
And you will agree with me that just like the Nigerian Tribune is telling the story you cannot compare it to if we have to rely on any news medium from the West telling our stories. So, we felt it is inappropriate for a European company to come to Nigeria and organise events within agriculture sector for us. You will recall that people like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, back in the day prioritised agriculture. We believe strongly that there is a need for us to start re-emphasising and focusing on agribusiness. And now the common terminology is agribusiness because agriculture has to be taken as a business and it can no longer be done in a subsistence manner our parents did it and that is why we felt that with the kind of exposure we have, both locally and internationally, we are in the best position to put together such an event.
And why West Africa?
West Africa because we know quite well that the problems we have in Nigeria are quite similar with those ones they have in Ghana. We have the same ecology, we have almost the same culture, we have the same environment more or less.
So we believe that instead of just looking at fixing the Nigerian problem, why not just fix the regional problem since we share common traits and challenges. That was why we felt that instead of limiting the scope of this event to Nigeria, let us extend the tentacle to West Africa. And then of course we already took the campaign to ECOWAS and some other agencies that cut across other region. That explains the background of the event.
Who exactly are your target audience for this event, sponsors and partners?
I have been in agribusiness, I can say, all my life. My father invested in agribusiness back in the day so it is a business I know quite a lot about. I am one of the models for our generation about the need for our generation to look into agriculture. Then when you look at our generation, why they have not been able to look at agriculture you will find out that there are quite a lot of reasons. Like I said earlier, agriculture can no longer be done at the subsistence level. There is the need for mechanisation, there is the need for innovation and there is a need to look at agriculture from the point
of view of business. Unfortunately, most of our parents’ generation did it in a subsistent manner. So there is really nothing to look up to. And you will not see any young man that would want to go into subsistent agriculture.
That explains the number one reason. The second reason basically is that government has lost focus. Agriculture is something that needs to be planned in a systemic manner because you find out that it is more or less like a value chain and every chain must connect for you to be able to get the desired result.
So, unfortunately, the role that government needs to play in agribusiness has been missing over the years. In terms of policy formulation, financing, and in terms of even basic institutions that are supposed to carry out research and development that will enhance innovation and what have you. Those are the missing links. And when you put short term
funds into agribusiness especially those that have longer gestation, for instance cocoa and oil palm. These are long term investment and some livestock investment too are long term in nature but the funds available are shorter. So the funding needs to be remodelled and quite a lot of things that we need to look at. And that is why for us, when you say target audience we are looking at government, it is important that we have government on a platform and then you have the private sector on the same platform. Both of them are looking at each other eyeball to eyeball and then we can engage, discuss and startthe conversation on how to fix the deplorable situation our agribusiness sector is currently in.
So, for us, what we want to do is to provide that platform whereby public sector and the private sector can connect, share ideas, disseminate information and then see how we can start changing the paradigm.
Until we create such a platform, for me I think we are still joking because the policymakers are moving to the east, the entrepreneurs are moving to the west. So, there is a need for us to create convergence for both of them to think in the same direction. When you talk about sponsors we have some foreign sponsors like Salmet International they are one of our platinum sponsors and we have Interswitch, we have Access Bank and we also have UAC Foods. And when you talk about partners, the primary body that is set up by government to regulate agric group in Nigeria which is called Nigeria Agribusiness Group, they have a seat in the National Executive Council meeting every month.
They are partners to this project, we have also reached out to NACCIMA, they are the ones responsible for the regulation of events in Nigeria, we have registered with them, we have their partnership as well and we have also reached out to the Lagos Chamber of Commerce since the event is taking place in Lagos, we are registered member of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and they are also partnering with us regarding the event. We have also got in touch with the Poultry Association of Nigeria, Nigeria Veterinary Association of Nigeria, also institutions like the Federal University of Agriculture and a host of others. So for us, this is an event where we hope we will be able to galvanise all the necessary stakeholders even NAFDAC as a matter of fact, all the stakeholders are welcome on board.
What is your take on the border closure by the Federal Government to prevent importation of rice, considering the fact that this closure also affects the exportation of our own agricultural produce. Do you think it is supposed to be a total closure?
Coincidentally I had a meeting with some officials of ECOWAS and they expressed their frustration about the closure of the Nigerian border. There is an ECOWAS treaty which permits the free movement of goods and human movement which Nigeria is signatory to. So for them at the ECOWAS this is a breach of what Nigeria has signed to.
And come to think of Nigeria being threatened by just the regional activities, the bigger threat which we have just also signed is the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement which is now about entire Africa having the capacity to export goods into our market.
For me, I think the action of the Federal Government is very naive, it is also very counterproductive. Because when you try to hurt these smaller economies, you find out that most often that you end up hurting your own economy. Nigeria has so much at stake for us to want to exist in isolation. I personally feel what we need to do is to do what advanced countries are doing, our borders need to be properly monitored through innovation.