In this interview with CHIKA IZUORA, a Nigerian-American entrepreneur and chief executive officer and founder of LOOP-CORE, Mr. Chigozie Obi says government should make more funds available for innovative research in the agriculture sector.
Your company was involved in raising $25 million for agriculture project in Nigeria, how did this happen?
My involvement began many years ago through my own business of importing stockfish/sea food products for animal feeds and durable goods to Nigeria from Iceland, Norway and U.S.A. Currently my participation with the Nigerian agriculture sector stems from business relationships with Nigerian based NGO’s Youth of the Street Initiative, YOTSI and connections with the US Commercial Service Office of Consulate General in Lagos.
The project actually started in 2017, when I led a US Business delegation to Nigeria to attend the “Nigerian Agri-Food Investment Forum. This Forum organized in Lagos by YOTSI on the 9th October, 2017, at Oakwood Park Hotel along Lekki, Victoria Island.
The event was graced by His Royal Majesty, Rilwan Akiolu, Obas of Lagos who was the Royal Father of the Day. It was chaired by His Royal Highness, Alhaji Dr. Yahaya Abubakar, CFR, Etsu Nupe. The Ooni of Ife, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, was also in attendance and represented by Oba Adedapo Aderemi, the Olajudo Alaiyemore of Ido-Osun Kingdom.
Other attendees included Brent Omdahl, Commercial Counsellor of the United States Mission to Nigeria; His Highness Justice Dr. Lawal Hassan Gummi, OFR, Emir of Gummi and former Chief Judge of Abuja; His Royal Highness Edmund Dakuro, former Chairman of OPEC and Nigeria’s Ex-Minister of Petroleum, the Amanyanabo of Nembe Kingdom; Kate Anolue, former Mayor of the London Borough of Enfield; Alistar Soyode, former Chairman of Nigerians In Diaspora Organization Europe and Founder/CEO of BEN Television London (ETC). The grand event was convened and hosted by Comrade Kennedy Iyere, President/CEO YOTSI.
Months after the Forum another meeting was held in Atlanta USA and jointly attended by myself, the chief executive officer, CEO of Cade Creek International, Pat Alley and the President/CEO YOTSI Comrade Kennedy Iyere.
At that meeting both my company LOOP-CORE LLC and YOTSI resolved to include Cade Creek International in their on-going Farm Projects in Nigeria, especially the Farm Project at Ifon in Osun State.
With the coordinating efforts of all parties had also at different times led several high-level business visits comprising of American companies to influential Nigerians including the Ooni of Ife, Etsu Nupe, King Edmund Dakuro, Oba Al-Maroof Magbagbeola, Governor Rauf Aregbesola. LOOP-CORE, is the first American company to team up with YOTSI in facilitating an agri-food business investment in Nigeria.
The $25Million grant will support the agriculture project for the local region slated to receive assistance. This in no way will support the increasing Nigerian population at large and the current investment would not be sufficient for multiple states.
Do you intend to execute more of this partnership in the country?
We fully intend to expand this programme and have already begun negotiations with other states to broaden the scope of this project for other regions.
The sector was once the main stay of the economy, what in your opinion went wrong?
Nigeria has always seen the importance of agriculture in both our economy and culture. As a fellow Nigerian I wholeheartedly understand the importance of maintaining a connection to our roots. However we have fallen short in our pursuits of technological advancement which is imperative for creating self-sustaining agricultural enterprises. My interest in this sector stems from a desire to be a conduit for conveying high tech farming modalities from the West to cultivators in my homeland.
The present administration has put some initiative in place to restart the industry, has anything changed so far and in which areas?
The present administration has been quite successful in a lot of industries particularly relating to food chain crops. In addition, this administration has sparked interest in the industry which has broadened the scope of involvement with both the private and public sector.
What can be done differently to accelerate its growth?
Agricultural growth will be accelerated when there is greater financial investment from the government for innovative research, technology advancement and initiatives that support youth involvement of agricultural careers.
Access to finance is a challenge to farmers. How can this be addressed?
In my opinion farming subsidies and resources to increase farmers’ business and finance acumen would be the best way to address this challenge.
Nigeria can also move from subsisting farming to mechanized agriculture through increased financial investment from the government.
Are there suggestions you can proffer to end herdsmen and farmers clean in the country?
I believe the greatest success would be seen in subsidies that assist with the financial cost of providing adequate confined ranching space for herdsmen. Other financial contributions could be gleaned from government loans or financial backing by the private sector.
If our agriculture industry is fully transformed, what economic benefits would the country derive from it?
As populations increase globally, the world will inevitably be faced with a food crisis. Nigeria has the capacity to not only be agriculturally self-sufficient but also a global leader for food production. The economic implications would be quite astounding for Nigeria and could finally put us at the table with many of our First World counterparts.
What are the key infrastructures that are in need at this transformation stage to support post harvest activities?
Nigeria needs great improvements in transportation so that goods and services may be traffic inter-and intra-state. In addition, the technology requirements needed for such a transformation would require efficient electrical infrastructure and increased internet capacity.
With the level of supposed progress in the sector can Nigeria be self sufficient in food production and when?
Nigerians are hard-working, innovative people and with the right access to resources Nigeria can be self- sufficient in food production by the year 2028 if not sooner.