From Linda Asante Agyei, GNA Special Correspondent, Lagos (Courtesy: Nestlé West and Central Africa)
Lagos, Sept 18, – African countries have been urged to pursue rapid agricultural productivity growth, and institutional reforms that will make the agriculture sector, viable, efficient, and competitive.
Dr Akinwunmi Ayo Adesina, Federal Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Nigeria said on Tuesday that achieving agricultural productivity growth would also require a structural change in the labour composition of the sector that called for encouragement of young commercial farmers to meet the increasingly complex challenges of market and technology.
“Agriculture holds the greatest potential to create million jobs, we therefore need to create jobs for our many unemployed youth and then feed our rising population well into the future,” he said.
Opening a two-day Regional Creating Shared Value (CSV) Forum here in Lagos, Nigeria, the Agriculture Minister in a speech read for him, said the sector should be seen as a business and not a development programme. He noted that there was also the need to focus on agricultural value chains instead of just on increasing production.
The forum, the first of its kind, under theme: “The Role of Business in Food Security and Nutrition was organized by Nestlé in collaboration with the Lagos School of Business, a Pan African University, was attended by over 400 participants from 22 countries in West and Central Africa.
The forum formed part of Nestlé’s Creating Shared Value (CSV) approach, under which initiatives are designed to address the company’s business needs while scaling up sustainable investments in Nutrition, Water and Rural Development across the world.
Attended by high-level multi stakeholder groups, civil society groups, farmer organistions, research groups, governments, the media and the academia, participants will strategize on how the private sector can contribute to food security and boost nutrition outcomes on a sub-continent facing more than its fair share of global socio-economic and health challenges.
The concept of shared value focused on the connections between societal and economic progress and the potential to unleash the next wave of growth in the Central and West African Region.
It was also meant to develop a responsibility and suitable supply which benefited all stakeholders along the value chain from crop to cup.
Delegates discussed concrete actions and options which when explored could spur productivity at farm level and transform the agricultural sector.
In addition they deliberated on how to harness the potential of food fortification to tackle micronutrient deficiencies, examined the role of agronomy research in arresting food insecurity, and synergized ideas for building capacity in the agricultural value chain.
In Central and West Africa, Nestlé ramps up investments in cocoa, coffee, grains and cereals to provide educational infrastructure, water and sanitary facilities to underserved communities, as well as address malnutrition and obesity through initiatives such as the Nestlé Healthy Kids programme and micronutrient fortification of its products.
Dr Ayo Adesina explained that Nigeria, which was once the largest producer in oil palm, cocoa, cotton and groundnuts, neglected their agricultural sector and became so much dependent on oil and that had cost the nation so dearly.
“If Nigeria had held its market share in palm oil, groundnuts and cotton, it would be earning today at least 10 billion dollars per year. We are now one of the largest food importers in the world and we are spending over 10 billion dollars each year on imports of wheat, rice, sugar and fish”.
He called for the need to tap into all the resources of farmers and deliver a green revolution that would make Nigeria a self sufficient in food production and be a food basket for Africa by 2015 and regain its lost glory.
Mr Etienne Benet Head of Region-Nestle Central and West Africa said Nestle had been a steadfast socially responsible corporate citizen in Central and West Africa and had invested over 500 million dollars in the past four years.
He noted that Nestle preferred to source local raw materials for production and empower local human resources across the supply and value chain, adding “Our business strategies are consistently embedded with our principle of supporting the communities living in the areas we operate in”.
Mr Benet urged companies dealing with the agribusiness sector in the Central and West Africa to go beyond treating food security as a philanthropic activity and to create new vision for food and agriculture that would deliver environmental sustainability as well as economic opportunity..
“To achieve this, we need to produce more food with fewer resources, especially water, while reinvigorating rural economies and this could only be achieved through collaboration, investment and innovation”.
Mr Martin Woolnough, Managing Director of Nestle Nigeria PLC, said the forum offered an opportunity for the delegates to address, the challenges of nutrition, water and rural development in the context of food security, environmental sustainability as well as greater economic opportunity.
Dr Enase Okonedo, Dean of LBS, aligned the efforts of Nestlé with those of academics, and commended the global food giant for offering her organization a platform to address weaknesses in African agricultural value chain.