Chief (Ms) Temitope Labinjo-Ajayi is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian-American Agricultural Empowerment Programme (NAAEP Ltd) who was recently nominated by the Corporate Council on Africa and the Nigerian Embassy in the USA as one of the Nigerian success stories from the private sector. In an exclusive interview with ABIODUN OLUWAROTIMI, she speaks on the insecurity in Nigeria and foreign investment, among other issues.
Can you please tell us about NAEEP?
Nigerian-American Agricultural Empowerment Programme Ltd (NAAEP Ltd) was one of those nominated by the Corporate Council on Africa and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria here in the United States of America, as one of the Nigerian success stories from the Private Sector at the recent Transforming Agribusiness through Investment in Washington DC, USA.
It is bolstered by an improving business climate and increasing incentives from the Nigerian government, global agribusinesses that are already harvesting the rewards of investment in Nigeria’s agricultural sector. Kudos to Ambassador Ade Adefuye, the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, The Corporate Council on Africa and the Minister for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, for nominating this organisation.
NAAEP trains and empowers farmers in mechanised farming system, while facilitating business loans, accessibility to farm implements, and the harvesting and marketing of their end product, both locally and internationally.
Don’t you see the insecurity in Nigeria as an impediment to foreign investments in the country?
The issue of insecurity in Nigeria is a problem that will affect foreign investors who want to come to do business in the country but we should also remember that Nigeria is not the only country in the world that has this insecurity issue. For now, electricity is the main obstacle because no company can run its factory or plant without constant electricity.
I am appealing to the Nigerian government to invest more in the teeming population of our young adults in order to reduce crime rate that often leads to insecurity. Unemployed graduates or young adults should be engaged because an idle mind is the devil’s workshop and he that is down fears no fall.
We need foreign investors in Nigeria because unemployment that leads to criminal activities will be reduced through their investment in Nigeria.
How does NAAEP carries out its operations in Nigeria?
We have offices in California and Nigeria and I shuttle back and forth between both. I have a hands-on approach to the management of NAEEP, as we have to wear several hats. There are the local farmers and unemployed young Nigerians that work on our farms, to the network of buyers and sellers of our organic produce that distribute and market them.
Also, we have managers in Nigeria in our employment that are engaged in research/development to explore the commercial viability of our locally grown crops in Nigeria.
Our California operations, however, is our primary hub in North America, and it helps me forge and form strategic partnerships with existing American business establishments, organizations and Agro-based companies that are interested in working and doing business with at NAAEP Ltd.
How important are Partnerships to NAAEP Business Model?
We are here today because we understand and know that a strategic partnership hinged on win-win outcomes is the lifeline of any business, especially NAAEP Ltd as well. We have partnered with local farmers, young Nigerian, unemployed village women to provide employment.
We’re working with various agro-based companies on the local, state and hopeful federal level to help further our work of providing employment and empowerment through agriculture.
Also, we’re here to forge new relationships with indigenous and American companies here and they are interested in helping NAAEP reach its goal of industrialised, mechanised farming that will provide jobs, reduce poverty and provide food for our large population, while diversifying our economy from oil. I must say however, that our biggest challenge so far has been funding, raising capital to take it to the next level.
What Advice do you have for Americans companies looking to invest in Nigeria?
We had the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Trade and Investment and several governors with us during the last Agriculture Forum in Washington DC and they all wooed foreign investors to go to Nigeria to do their businesses. No other African, European or North American country has ever had such a high level delegation at any other conference.
Nigeria is serious and ready to do business with the world: we have the man-power; we have abundant natural resources; we have the goodwill of the government; we have a growing middle-class; we have the Ministry of Trade and Investment solely set up to help businesses interested in investing in Nigeria seamless.
Alhaji Aliko Dangote once said that Nigeria is the best-kept secret place to invest in the world. My advice will be for these American companies to engage officials from the several states and federal ministries in Nigeria in a dialogue. They should ask questions because Nigeria has a lot of business leaders from all sectors that are willing to do business with them.
What challenges have you faced with NAAEP?
Our challenges have been several fold. The first phase is we need additional financial support from the Lagos State Government and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture. The second phase is seeking further partnership with banks and we would like more cooperation.
The last and most important is seeking further partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture to support the organisation. Lots of millions of Naira have been invested into this NAAEP programme and I must confess that this venture has been a very wonderful adventure. We’ve been able to seek and get help from the private and public sector as well. We at NAAEP are focused on providing employment, empowering women and eradicating poverty via agriculture.
To this extent, we ask and seek the cooperation and partnership of the federal government. More importantly, our biggest challenge has been raising capital to take our work to the next level. Therefore, we’re seeking to partner with several banks that can see the commercial viability of our work.
What are your parting words?
I am using this opportunity to commend and thank President Goodluck Jonathan and the Minister for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina for making the cassava bread a reality in Nigeria and for taking agriculture to another level. I also commend some state governors.
Special thanks go to Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi for empowering the Nigerian farmers and for making agriculture a reality in Nigeria and Ekiti State. NAAEP Ltd is ready to partner with the federal government, some state governments and private individuals and foreign investors.
We are also appealing to the federal government to create a ministry or an avenue where the Diaspora can come home to invest heavily in Nigerian’s economy because a recent statistic says the Diaspora Nigerians remit almost $9billion every year into Nigeria economy .