The United States Consul General, Mr John Bray, on Friday called for the modernisation of the local economy particularly the agricultural sector to meet Nigeria’s population growth and development.
Bray made the remark at the African Food and Products Exhibition and Conference (AFPE) organised by the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce (NACC) in Lagos.
The theme of the conference is “Non-Oil Exports: Scaling Up Productivity to Meet Global Demand”.
According to him, opportunities abound in all the 36 states in the country to create more businesses in the agricultural sector to provide jobs for more Nigerians.
“While there has been increased human development in Nigeria over the past several years, huge inequalities still persist between men and women in the country.
“In many areas, particularly the agricultural sector, low productivity and lack of investment as well as limited or absence of infrastructure hold back economic development,” he said.
Bray, quoting a 2015 African Development Bank (AfDB) report, said in the next 15 years, more than 370 million youths, including those in Nigeria would enter Africa’s labour market.
“It is necessary for private enterprises working closely with government institutions at all levels to create more jobs.
“The population growth combined with climate change will exert increasing pressure on natural resources such as food, water and land.”
Bray, represented by Jude Akhidenor, Regional Agricultural Counselor in the Embassy, noted that developing and modernising the agricultural sector should be a priority for the Nigerian Government, private sectors and other stakeholders.
“Because food is a necessity- everyone must eat; moreover, food production, including processing and adding value is a good job and income generating enterprise,” he said.
Hajia Aisha Abubakar, the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, said the government was not oblivious of the potential of agriculture and its benefits for the nation’s economy.
She said: “In fact, this is why agriculture is one of six sectors identified for growth in the Economic Recovery & Growth Plan (ERGP).
“For us as a nation, agriculture should not be treated as just a social sector intervention for managing poverty but more as a business for creating wealth and empowering citizens.
“It is the kind of business that can help many African nations, including Nigeria, diversify revenue, reduce import dependency, create jobs and develop rural areas.”
According to the minister, to drive economic diversity and productivity in the agricultural sector, government will embark on agricultural industrialisation and implement innovative financing models that cater for the needs of both low-income farmers and high-income processors.
Abubakar noted that economists believed that if Nigeria maintained its export growth rate from the 1960s, its agriculture exports would have been valued at ₦2 trillion (about $6.6 billion) today.
She, however, said in 2017 Nigeria’s agriculture export was valued at just over ₦170 billion ($470 million) – less than 9 per cent of its potential.
“I am very keen about our agriculture export potential as we have the opportunity to be the leading exporter of rice, maize, corn, shrimps and cocoa which we have in abundant quantities.
“Coincidentally, these are some of the most valuable agricultural products traded globally.
“It is clear that we have these agricultural resources and we need to work towards improving the quality and standards of our products not just to match up to global standards but to surpass them,” she said.
Dr Waheed Olagunju, the Executive Director, Small and Medium Enterprises, Bank of Industry (BoI), represented both the Minister and the Managing Director of BoI, Mr Olukayode Pitan.
Chief Olabintan Famutimi, the President, Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber would continue to remind all stakeholders of the need to promote and preserve MSMEs growth.
“There is need to apply international best practices and other relevant frameworks such as access to market, access to business funding, export value chain process, and the full implementation of the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA).”