Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former Nigerian President, at the weekend urged the federal government to shift its focus more on attracting more foreign exchange (forex) through non-oil exports.
Chief Obasanjo believes Nigeria could overcome its foreign exchange (forex) crisis and dwindling value of the naira by shifting from a mono-economy marked by dependence on oil to non-oil exports, particularly agribusiness.
Obasanjo made the assertion in Abeokuta at the closing ceremony of a week-long intensive “Agribusiness Export Readiness Accelerator Training Programme” for entrepreneurs drawn from across the country.
The training, held at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), Abeokuta, was organised by African Leadership Foundation (ALF), in partnership with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank).
Thisday reports that speaking at the event, also, President of Afreximbank, Dr. Benedict Oramah, said the training exposed participants to requisite entrepreneurial knowledge and export readiness skills needed to trade across borders, particularly with the opportunities in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which had the capacity to unlock a market of 1.3 billion people valued at $3 trillion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The former president stated that the discovery of oil in Nigeria several years ago, which was then regarded as a blessing, was now becoming a curse, as some economists had affirmed, given the distortion it caused the Nigerian economy. He urged African countries to maximise their export potential in agribusiness to boost participation in global trade, earn good forex, and increase the prosperity of the region.
Obasanjo explained, “Nigeria has been known for its near total dependence on earnings from petroleum export, and her economy has suffered devastations arising from various oil shocks without any buffer to cushion against major declines.
“What was initially celebrated as a major blessing has become what economists now refer to as ‘oil curse.’ The recent volatility in the oil market and the expansive global push towards alternative energy now leaves no one in doubt about the urgency of diversifying our economic base through the promotion of non-oil exports.
“Given the enormous resource endowment of Nigeria, I have no doubt in my mind that economic diversification is achievable at the shortest possible time if robust economic policies with appropriate implementation mechanisms are put in place, running consistently over a period of time.
“Nations, like Indonesia and Malaysia, were once mono-product economies, like Nigeria, but they are now well diversified and, therefore, less vulnerable to global economic shocks.”
The former president lamented that Africa remained at the bottom of the global trade pyramid and global value chain, accounting for only 1.9 per cent of global manufacturing, because it failed to add value to even its little export of primary commodities.
He said, “In Nigeria, not only do we export our oil as crude, we turn around to import virtually all our petroleum products from other nations. The story is not remarkably different for our non-oil exports.
“Since international trade is a good barometer of the world economic growth and development, it then becomes quite easy to understand the poor economic performance of Africa in general, and Nigeria, in particular.”
Obasanjo explained how he ventured into tree planting out of the need to solve the problem of heat in his poultry farm, disclosing that he would soon start exporting wood, among other agricultural products.
According to Obasanjo, those that would succeed in agribusiness exports must be resilient, dedicated, embrace quality standards, and be consistent, while also being favourably disposed to learning new things that could enhance their trade.
He commended ALF and Afreximbank for organising the programme to stimulate value-added agro-based exports within and outside Africa.
“This is a game-changing development for Nigeria and the continent at large, and the strategic move aligns perfectly with the goal of fostering economic self-sufficiency and reducing our dependence on oil,” he stated.
The former president also lauded ALF for its commitment to supporting the prosperity of the country, saying the foundation has not only helped to increase the capacity of 36,000 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) through partnership with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), state governments, and international non-governmental agencies, but has also through its business development programme supported SMEs to raise over N2 billion for business start-up or expansion.
Speaking at the event, Oramah, who was represented by Senior Manager, Export Development at Afreximbank, Mr. Ody Akhanoba, disclosed that there was recently an increase in demand for processed agricultural products from Africa, especially in diaspora hubs, such as the United States, United Kingdom, and France.
The Afreximbank president advised participants to maximise the growing diaspora market to further improve on the fortunes of the continent.
Executive Director of ALF, Dr. Olumide Ajayi, said the training was an eye opener on how the entrepreneurs could help foster prosperity, growth and development of Nigeria and Africa by maximising the potential in agribusiness, especially as it relates to export of processed agro-based products to other parts of the world.
Ajayi said, “In the course of this training, we have taken the beneficiaries of this scheme through series of modules, explored the intricacies of the Export Market Plan, delved into strategies for market entry, and honed your skills to meet the demands of international trade. The commitment and enthusiasm you have shown throughout this programme are truly commendable.”
He encouraged participants to remain connected, collaborate and continue learning from one another, saying the network they have built during the programme is a valuable resource that could further their success in the export market.
Obasanjo advocates single digit interest rate for agric loans
Obasanjo has also urged the Federal government to reduce agriculture interest loan to single digit to help transform the agribusiness.
The former President said that if youths had to go to bank to borrow money at the rate of 20 per cent interest rate, it would be difficult for them to succeed in agric business.
The former president appealed to the Federal Government to find a way that youths could get access to finance at the right rate for agriculture.
“I believe any interest that is more than single digit is not good enough for agriculture.”
According to him, agricultural stakeholders have done tremendous work in providing the right seed, hybrid seed, high yielding seed and knowledge that can used be used to transform the agribusiness sector.
“But we need more of these scientific and technological products in the farmers’ hands so that farmers can be better on what they get in terms of yields,” he said.
He said that food production, food security and nutritional security were very important in Nigeria and there was also need to create jobs for the teeming population of youth in the country.
On his part, Wouter Plomp, Netherlands Ambassador to Nigeria, said the Youth Agribusiness Programme would be a three-year initiative inspired by Nigerian tenacity and a sprinkle of Dutch innovation to support 8000 young agripreneurs.
He said the goal was to combat food insecurity by empowering youths to get access to finance and connect young agripreneurs with local and international market.
According to him, the aim is not only to ensure Nigeria’s food security, but also place the nation at the forefront of global agricultural innovation.
The Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Sen. Abubakar kyari, said 2023 World Food Day campaign took water action for food by encouraging its wise utilisation to ensure stability in food security.
The minister, who was represented by Engr. Adegbenro Adebiyi, Director Agribusiness and Market Development, said the aim of the project was to provide opportunities that would save and restore livelihoods and reduce food insecurity in Nigeria.