Can First Ladies use position to promote Nigeria’s agro-ecological sustainability?

Can First Ladies use position to promote Nigeria’s agro-ecological sustainability?

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Since 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari came to power, his policy and model of economic development has been hinged on two key sectors to help diversify the economy and reduce its reliance on petroleum, moving the nation from the perennial vulnerabilities suffered by typical mono-commodity economies, including occasional slides into economic recession.

In order to achieve this, he made agriculture and solid minerals the two substitute sectors to end over-reliance on crude oil and gas for revenues to fund budgets, finance projects, and pay for imports across various industrial and consumer needs.

Since agriculture is primarily a rural activity and its sustainability depends on the positive contributions of youthful populations, especially women and children, it is important to coordinate these groups for optimum results.

However, can first ladies use their positions to promote Nigeria’s agro-ecological sustainability?  

 This question deserves urgent attention and quick answers on the grounds that 75 percent of actors in the shea industry are women, especially in the rural areas, according to figures from the Global Shea Alliance.

In order to ensure that this demographic segment benefits maximally from the shea industry market dynamics, a coordinated market structure is necessary across the entire valuechain of the commodity, from collection, transportation, processing, packaging, and export.

Transparency International estimates that, globally, the market will value up to $3.5 billion by 2028, with a cumulative annual growth rate of 5.2 percent over the forcast period.

It further noted that Nigeria could earn $2 billion annually from the shea market, “as a tonne of shea butter costs $5,000,” according to information sourced from the Nigeria Agribusiness Register.

But to ensure that such market value is derived for Nigeria from the shea economy, those who may be better placed to coordinate 75 percent of the actors in this sector (women), for sustainable and profitable participation could be women leaders, especially the wives of state governors, or First Ladies, as they are popularly called in Nigeria.

This could be made possible through their social enterprise projects and possible partnerships available, both locally and internationally, for the purpose of enlightenment on the issue of sustainably managing shea tree ecology and preserving shea stock.

One of such partnership opportunities exists with the Commodity Development Initiative (CDI), which is a social enterprise project that was founded to support development in the country, specifically in areas of agricultural development facilitation and investment facilitation.

The Nigeria Agribusiness Register is an online repository of CDI containing market intelligence on about 15 commodities ant the moment and still growing, with a target to facilitate about $3.4 billion investments into the Nigerian agricultural sector within the next five years.

According to Roland Oroh, who is the Director of CDI, “we take a value chain and we bring operators within that value chain that are looking for funding, and we bring in alternative fund providers to support that venture. For the funders, we are looking at people that are offering private equity, venture capital, Diaspora funds, and development finance, among others,” said Oroh.

“The target is to expose the potential of Nigeria’s agribusiness to this class of fund providers, both within and outside the country. We have foreign fund providers; for instance, we have partners in Turkey that are looking for investment opportunities in Nigeria and we are like bridge makers.”

Nigeria has the highest number of shea trees in the world, nearly 60 percent, but the country is not significantly present in the international market. In contrast, Ghana, which has less than 20 percent of shea trees in the world, is actively involved in the shea butter market on the global state, accounting for a huge export future of shea butter to different countries.

CDI believes advocacy is needed to enlighten rural dwellers on the need not to cut down economic trees, as the trees need to be used and the nuts harvested for economic purposes.

It is therefore involved in some form of advocacy roles to sensitize the people not to cut down trees of such economic value, meaning that if 36 First Ladies in Nigeria join in this effort, it would be an impactful exercise in reducing desertification, increasing afforestation, and deriving more value from shea trees as compared to cutting it down for peanuts, while destroying the ecosystem in the process.

The non-governmental organization also knows that a lot of farming and processing activities go on in states and, right now, Niger State has the largest stock of shea trees in parklands.

 “Niger State has opened themselves up to receive foreign investments, and we are currently working with the state’s Commodities and Exchange to bring in one or two major investors to set up in the state. Niger, Kebbi, Kwara, and Oyo States are the states we are targeting and they are the ones that have most shea trees in their states within Nigeria,” Oroh assured.

The First Lady of Niger State was in attendance at CDI’s monthly Agribusiness Networking (AgNet) function of June 20 in Abuja, where she pledged to continue supporting the growth and sustainability of the shea industry in her state.

One of the greatest opportunities in the shea sector is that of “shea butter equivalent” in terms of what will increase the opportunities for Nigeria.

This is because the confectionary industry needs shea butter as cocoa butter equivalent and there is anticipated deficit in the global cocoa market and‎ shea butter is actually the equivalent.

That will surely open up the market for shea butter demand and these are the kind of opportunities that Nigeria needs to improve or multiply its foreign exchange sources.

Nigeria is responsible for 57 percent (approximately 370, 000 MT PA) of global shea nut production (600,000 MT PA), yet accounts for less than 5 percent of shea butter production.

The export volume of shea butter by Nigeria in 2016 was estimated at 2,000 MT, generating only about $2.8 million as compared to Ghana that generates about $169 million  from the export of 76, 000 MT shea butter annually.

Yet, Androit Market Research (2019) says the global shea butter market is projected to reach $1.74 billion by 2025 and would be driven by growing adoption of shea butter in food, personal care and cosmetics and medical industry.

The food sector constitutes 90 percent of total shea exports from West Africa mainly from Western Europe which approved shea butter as CBE. The cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries absorb the remaining 10 percent.

Nigeria is hardly known for the export of processed shea products, such as shea butter, and ranks fourth even in terms of raw shea nut exports among African shea nut exporting countries, while North America, Europe and Japan constitute the largest markets.

Fortunately, there are government interventions already fashioned to support this sector, as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) recently agreed to set aside N200 billion to give single digit lending to three sectors- cashew, shea nuts and cocoa.

Oroh said the monthly AgNet event would begin to provide the groundwork needed so that the bankers would be sufficiently informed that the opportunities, risk areas, and policy areas would see lending options and repayment happen to grow the sector.

The First Ladies in Nigeria may do well to ensure that women, both in the rural areas and elsewhere in the country, are well coordinated to benefit from such policy machineries being set in place, both by the government and the private sector, especially in the shea economy, considering the fact that 70 percent of market participants in the shea sector are women.

This may help address current market challenges in the sector, which include Product quality and quantity, Limited access to modern, processing technology and equipment, Lack of adequate data, as well as limited access to domestic, regional and international markets.

Apart from the market challenges, women leaders’ interventions may also help address sustainability challenges affecting the viability of shea trees, which include indiscriminate felling of trees, low regeneration of parklands as a result of long gestation period, poor parkland management, weak laws/policies against deforestation of parklands, and annual bush burning for agricultural activities.

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