ILR Conference Center
New York, New York
June 8, 2012
His Excellency Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, Honorable Speaker Razak Atunwa, Hon Moshoood Mustapha, Hon Consul General, and members of the Nigerian foreign mission in the United States, our esteemed guests; I welcome you again to this important event this afternoon.
As President of the Bridge Education & Technology Institute (BET), I am most honored to have coordinated the production of Kwara State Agricultural Modernization Master Plan and the Memorandum of Understanding being signed this afternoon between KWSG and a great, world renowned University, here in New York State, Cornell University. BET’s primary focus is solving myriad developmental and public policy problems faced by emerging democracies by building bridges and connecting policymakers with the academia and private sector in an effort to achieve policy effectiveness, create collaborative synergies, accelerate economic growth, generate employment and reduce poverty.
Before speaking on process and rationale that drove the development of this Master Plan, please allow me to introduce the members of the KAMP Team who have done an incredible job in developing a great document that is about to change the face of agriculture in Africa:
First, the US-based team members, who I can say without equivocation, are the best minds in the business of agriculture anywhere. Our Team Leader, International Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics and Director of Cornell International programs, Professor Ronnie Coffman, Professor of Crop Sciences, Harold van Es, and Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Peter Gregory. The Nigerian-based team – the home team – is composed of the team leader, my dear friend, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of Kwara State University, Professor AbdulRasheed NaAllah: Team members: Professor Funsho Oluleye, Professor Moshood Belewu, Dr. Fatimo Adekola. Also based in Nigeria is the Senior Special Assistant on Investment, Policy, and Strategy, Mr. Yomi Ogunsola, who, in many ways guided the entire process. During critical times, members of his staff worked round the clock. As Project Manager, Ms Mosunmola Bello, was instrumental in coordinating activities between the U.S.-based and Nigerian-based teams.
There are numerous members of the Kwara State Government that assisted in the course of producing this Master Plan, including especially the Hon. Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Isa and Hon Senior Special Assistant on Agriculture, Mr. Yinka Aje. Finally, the incredible BET team that worked tirelessly behind the scenes: Ms Zoe Nelson, Mr. Ainsley Thomas, my Dear wife, Mrs. Karen Somide. There are many members of support staff at Cornell University and BET that assisted in many ways along the way who I will not be able to acknowledge individually in the interest of time.
The process of developing the Kwara State Agricultural Modernization Master Plan (KAMP) was interdisciplinary and highly consultative. We are extremely grateful to H.E. Governor Ahmed, not only for his vision but for a well thought out process that I, and many of my colleagues, agree will be why KAMP will succeed. It is a bottom-up Master Plan, developed with inputs from all relevant stakeholders.
We consulted with higher education, federal and state agriculture research institutes, river basin authorities, farmers associations and business and industry groups. As you know, many of the nationally-led efforts to transform Africa’s agriculture have failed mainly because of the lack this critically important factor.
We worked across time zones in three continents and endured fatigue and stress, as well as the usual ups and downs that come with the project of this nature. But, in the end, we shared a feeling of overwhelming joy and satisfaction in the final product.
This is a great day of celebration for Kwara State, Nigeria and the world. The Master Plan being unveiled today and the MOU with Cornell University have the great potential to put Kwara State on a secured trajectory to a robust, diversified, sustainable economic growth. It can also create synergies throughout the Nigerian economy, thereby breaking the jinx, the vicious circle, of the often-talked-about, but seldom-acted-on latent economic powers of the most populous African nation. As far as I can tell, there is no other state in Nigeria (perhaps in the entire continent) that has taken such a comprehensive approach to agriculture development. Therefore, I must commend H.E. Gov Abdulfatah Ahmed for raising the bar of good governance and prudent public policy. This Governor is dead serious about eradicating poverty and creating wealth. He recognizes that no nation has ever developed by neglecting its agriculture. Thank you Governor.
The Kwara food revolution did not start overnight. A few years back, the Economist and some other business journals did stories of the sociopolitical and economic crisis occasioned by the displacement of the Zimbabwean white commercial farmers. Kwara State Government worked hard to relocate those displaced farmers to Kwara State. It was a bold experiment that resulted in what I believe has been the largest technology and skills transfer from one African country to another. This has resulted in a successful model of agricultural modernization in Kwara State. This Master Plan will build on this past effort. One of the major components of the Master Plan is to create in Kwara the agriculture hub for Nigeria and West Africa.
So what does this mean for Nigeria and the world? There was a time in Nigeria’s recent past when groundnut pyramids dotted the northern Nigeria landscape, when cocoa marketing boards in southwestern Nigeria generated a significant portion of Nigeria’s foreign earnings and production of rubber, palm kernel in southeastern part of Nigeria constituted a significant percentage of global total production. Somehow all this disappeared in a matter of 2 decades following independence. By the late 1970s and early 1980s Nigeria had become a net importer of food.
In my opinion, earlier emphasis on agriculture was not a “false start” for Africa’s economic development as Caude Ake has argued. The emphasis on agriculture was rightly placed. The question then is what happened? It was a multitude of bad government policies that derailed agriculture and ultimately the entire economy. For Nigeria, you have a toxic mix of rentier oil economy and its concomitant Dutch disease syndrome, urban-bias, accelerated population growth, declining physical infrastructure and declining investment in human resource and education. The poorly developed or nonexistent agricultural manufacturing sector, including storage, processing, and the whole agriculture value chain has been the bane of the sector. It is therefore not surprising that rational investors would gravitate toward other sectors of the economy, e.g., the oil and gas sector and other activities that require less effort for high margins but actually contribute very little to building a sustainable economy. The Rational Choice theorists are correct on the consequences of all this: staying on the farm simply no longer made sense.
In frustration, some have thrown up their arms. Other extremists and naysayers are predicting a violent revolution and Nigeria’s impending collapse. His Excellency Governor Ahmed says we need a carefully coordinated green revolution and all will be well.
I could not agree with you more, Governor. We need a revolution in food abundance. This is hard to imagine without a concerted, coordinated effort that you eloquently laid out in your charge to BET and Cornell University back in Feb. You identified human resource, mechanization, technology, university research, private investment as sine qua none if all this is to be achieved.
Governor, you are the great visionary who has unleashed the architects and engineers of this impending revolution in food abundance who are sitting here today. The engineers of Kwara revolution in food abundance – like Ronnie Coffman, Harold van Es, Peter Gregory, David Lee, BET, Malete Youth Farm in Kwara State, KWASU, the Shonga farmers and current and future partners of Kwara State from the private sector. The revolution is afoot!!
Thank you all.