By CHIKA IZUORA, Lagos
A horde of Nigeria’s first class traditional rulers yesterday thronged the 2017 Nigerian Agri-Food Investment Forum in Lagos to demonstrate their unflinching solidarity towards President Muhammadu Buhari’s economic diversification policy, which has placed top priority to agriculture.
The forum organized by Youths Off The Street Initiative (YOTSI), a non-governmental organization (NGO), attracted potential investors mainly from the United States and Britain, and largely mobilized by the United States Mission in Nigeria.
Etsu Nupe, and chairman, coordinating committee of the National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria (NCTRN), Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, who was the chairman of the occasion, said the event came at a time the country is at a crossroad at containing insecurity and other vices mostly perpetrated by the youths.
The royal father said he is impressed by the initiative, which is driven by the youths for the youths of the country, adding that engaging the youths in meaningful economic activities is a better way of dealing with insecurity.
He said it was heartwarming to see the youths organizing themselves into an orderly group and seeking to create opportunities for themselves, even as he assured that the traditional institution will do all within its power to mobilise support for them.
The Etsu Nupe said already, President Muhammadu Buhari has proved himself ready and committed towards investing energy and resources to develop the agriculture sector.
His words: “We have witnessed several agricultural programmes in the past like Operation Feed The Nation, Green Revolution, among others but no one has set a target to end hunger or address food insecurity.
“But everyone is witnessing the dramatic turnaround in the sector today and with continuous intervention by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), farmers are accessing finance, input by suppliers and many off-takers are already benefiting”.
He said Nigeria cannot afford to fail the youths in this lofty venture, adding that the country is blessed with arable land and highly skilled people, while the industry presents huge opportunities that are yet to be tapped.
“I commend the present administration’s foresight and the president has laid the foundation and what I will say is that we shall solicit for global partnerships to attract investors with the expertise and with knowledge of modern technology to drive the project to higher level”, he assured.
Also speaking, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Emitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi, who is the co-chairman National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria, said he is impressed that the youths are now coming together to take advantage of opportunities provided by government’s diversification policy to pursue meaningful career in agriculture.
The Ooni, who was represented by His Royal Majesty, Architect Adeyemi Adeen Adedapo, the Alayemore of Osun State, said everyone should support the event, as idle youths are ready volunteers to criminal activities, which poses danger to the society and is threatening the unity of the country.
Speaking also, the Emir of Gummi and chairman, coordinating committee, Northern Traditional Ruler Council, Alhaji Lawal Hassan, sadly recalled that, while every year peasant farmers cultivate crops, experience has shown that the efforts yields no positive results as significant harvests are lost and wasted as a result of inadequate support Infrastructure.
Hassan said the farmers are challenged by absence of preservation facilities and as such record high post-harvest losses.
According to him, Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara produce the highest quality and volume of onions but research has shown that 70 per cent of the harvest is lost because there are no preservation facilities.
He added that markets in these areas produce unacceptable stench from rotten onions, which is not healthy and highly unacceptable.
The royal father said, however, that the forum presents a great opportunity for companies seeking local partnerships as the states involved are looking for firms with the technology to preserve the onions.
“We are currently looking for companies that will partner with us to accomplish this purpose because our intention is to see how to preserve onions for one year and still sell them as fresh as if they have been harvested”, he added.
In his remarks, the royal father of the occasion and the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu, expressed concern about the plight of Nigerian farmers.
Akiolu commended the present administration for making significant investment in the sector but said post-harvest loss should be a source of worry for government.
He advised that efforts should be made to provide the needed infrastructure support to help stabilize the sector.
President of the YOTSI, comrade Kennedy Iyere, in his speech said the organization is set to raise $350 million for investment in the sector, which he said would generate about one million jobs in the next three years.
Iyere said the money would be sourced offshore and invested in existing agro-businesses and in youth wanting to venture into agriculture.