Economic eggheads, researchers, policy-makers and development partners are in Abuja, Nigeria, for the 11th African Economic Conference (AEC). The two day conference will provide a platform for the sharing of ideas on African development issues particularly as they relate to measures to end hunger and ensure food security on the continent.
The conference is being put together by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
At the conference, experts are expected to provide empirical evidence on how to leverage agro-industrialisation for feeding Africa and promoting inclusive growth. It will also provide opportunity for critical thinking on how policy-makers, development partners, the private sector, civil society organisations and the academia should synergise on the planning and implementation of industrialisation modalities. The new strategy on food security in Africa focuses on support to agricultural transformation, and strengthening of energy and transport infrastructure to increase production and improve competitiveness.
The African Development Bank Group (AfDB), Africa’s premier development finance institution, is at the forefront of industrialisation strategies. It comprises three distinct entities: the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Development Fund (ADF) and the Nigeria Trust Fund (NTF). It is on ground in 34 African countries with an external office in Japan and contributes to the economic development and the social progress of its 54 regional member states.
This conference could not have come at a more opportune time as Nigeria grapples with the challenges of diversifying her economy after years of reliance on a mono commodity – oil. In the last few years, the international oil market has experienced and is still experiencing instability in terms of not only supply and demand but also pricing.
One area that has attracted the government’s attention in this diversification drive is agriculture. Before oil was discovered in the late 1950s, agricultural produce- cocoa, groundnuts, cotton, palm oil and many others were the mainstay of the economy. Along the line, as the petro-dollar started rolling in, not only agriculture but other resources like solid minerals were abandoned. Or at best they received mere lip service as all governments- military and civilian did not see the looming danger in wholesale importation of food. The import substitution policy extended to the nation’s local industries as they progressively either closed shop or relocated to neighbouring African countries.
That, in our view, is the main reason for the crushing unemployment that is threatening the future of Nigerian school leavers. The present President of Dr Akinwunmi Adesina as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, spearheaded the ongoing effort to resuscitate that sector through a well-articulated policy framework that looks at agriculture as business, a departure from the subsistence perception of it. That is energising the agricultural programme of the Muhammadu Buhari administration which has gone a step further to place a ban on the importation of certain categories of agricultural products especially rice that had in the past gulped billions of scarce foreign exchange.
Also worthy of commendation is the policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to provide the required financial back up for those keen on pursuing the agricultural development policy of government. The apex bank, under Mr Godwin Emefiele, is extending the facility to Anchor Borrowers programme for rice growers which include state governments and private sector investors. Those in animal husbandry and poultry as well as others involved directly in agri-processing also have access to the facility being provided by the CBN at single digit interest rate. The effect of this is beginning to show as Nigeria will soon be self-sufficient in staple food and even have enough for export.
It is in this context that we commend the organisers of this conference primarily for the wisdom in bringing these experts to Nigeria to share their knowledge and experiences with their counterparts and other stakeholders in the country. We also hope that the outcome of the brainstorming sessions will further expand the participation of interested parties in the sector.