Market Development Programme in the Niger Delta, MADE, a UK Department for International Development Funded programme, is leading one of the most ambitious integration in the Niger Delta of Nigeria through a market development approach (M4P) to improve market access, increase economic activity, and raise the incomes of 150,000 poor people, in the region. In this exclusive interview with African Leadership Magazine, the Team Leader, Dr. Terry Lacey, talks about MADE’s approach and the huge potentials in the Niger Delta Region of the country. Excerpts:
MADE is out to increase Markets in the Niger Delta, through the Development of the Agricultural value chains; please tell us more about this Project?
I think the reason MADE was conceived was because the Federal Government of Nigeria and the British Government saw that the Niger Delta missed out on development because of oil. It may be strange but true. I have worked in other parts of the country, like Plateau, Niger, Ogun; and if you look at the level of development in parts of the Middle-Belt, you find that it is much more than most of the Niger Delta. This is a very strange contradiction. Port Harcourt itself is not like Lagos; Port Harcourt is a kind of isolated city very prosperous, but without a hinterland that is developed. For instance, if you are in Lagos, and you drive North through Ibadan, Abuja, Kaduna and Kano, you will find that you have driven past 65% of the Nigerian economy in one stretch. But the story is different on the right-hand side of Nigeria. Port Harcourt is an Island of large scale, open to development with Ports, Boats and the rest of it. But around it, you don’t have to go very far, and you are right in the middle of the bush that has the Swamps and the Creeks. There is very little around the city. Unfortunately, if you go to states like Bayelsa, which was carved out of Rivers State, it is one of the smallest and poorest states in the Federation. But it is an oil-rich area state, plagued with the issue of pollution that affects the people. The people are not able to fish and do their agriculture. So there is this contradiction that the Niger Delta region was full of Nigeria’s riches and was also full of its poor people. So, I think it was obvious that there had to be a more comprehensive economic development program. There was also an attempt by the UN, aimed at setting up a development plan for the Niger Delta. So development instruments have been constructed at different stages in the last 10 years following the security issues around the delta. However, MADE is the first attempt in modern times, at least in the last few years to build a programme that will put together the linkages in the economy that are missing in the Niger Delta. So you have wealth, Oil money; you have big industries; the small farmers that are not largely supplying the commercial, industrial demand – they are just subsistence.
There have been no connections between most of the Agricultural activities and the industries that are in the region. We are at the moment trying to get the people integrated into the value chain. Like people in Edo and upper Delta that are nearer to the West can send their produce that way. The Delta region isn’t yet working in an integrated economy, unfortunately, and that means a high level of unemployment, a high level of poverty and a lot of money in one place. We have all realized that you can’t expect either the Federal, state or donor and development agencies to put funds into the region with these missing links. Moreso, because it is huge, and the size of the population is big. This is because technically, any state that have some oil and gas forms the Niger Delta region and that region comprises of nine states. There are three states that stand out in terms of Agriculture. Cross River goes right up the way and has always had a strong agricultural base. Akwa Ibom is what we call a front line state. It has been affected by the crisis in the Niger Delta, but it does have a strong agricultural base. It is the most peaceful and one of the most developed among the frontline states which are Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta, and Bayelsa. They are the ones where you have the biggest problems in the creeks and the rivers in the past. That’s where the militants were, that’s where the problems were and that where the pirates still exist. At the same time, you have the other states from the back end, like Imo, Edo and so on. They actually are on the back end of this region where there has been major problem and affected by some under development. But maybe you can say that their economic pool on the left-hand side is more to Lagos. Calabar stands in its right as Cross River has been a center of agricultural development and stability and has always been a little apart. So it’s always been fairly stable. And that stability extends south into Akwa Ibom. Although Akwa Ibom has some piracy challenges, it still has a robust economy and ready to develop. I think the big problem is that Bayelsa and Delta have certainly not had enough economic and agricultural development to step up, so the value chain is just not integrated enough. There are no enough people who want to buy from the bigger companies, and there are not enough, people who want to sell. So if you are an investor who brings your starch factory or something else, where do you find all your inputs for the factory. You can sell to Unilever and other big companies who might be willing to buy and stop importing from other countries. But the chain isn’t there yet. You talk to people who want to produce HQCF, but they tell you I can’t find buyers because the buyers will not be in Port Harcourt. Who also educates the farmer on the specifications; how do I make the right steps. So you have got these problems from one end of the chain to the other. How do you integrate it. The reason MADE was created was to try and pull this value chains back together, and if you apply that to Palm Oil, Fishery, and Cassava, you will get a lot more production. People will make more money, the economy will grow, and the Niger Delta will stay more stabilized.
You have seen the Degradation in the Delta; you have seen the Spillages and destruction; do you think Agriculture will thrive in this Region?
What I have seen since I started working in the Delta, is that in the beginning the pictures were a bit contradictory. There are farm areas that were not directly affected by the Riverine Creeks exposure, and they have Agriculture beginning to re-develop again. In the Niger Delta, we have got a difference between the Uplands and the Lowlands. If you are down there in the swamps, you are on lowland and if you are 100 feet up, you are on the Highland. The lowlands feel they have been left out and haven’t got the benefits of economic development and also that they have been kind of marginalized. So they are not sure what is in it for them even in the new economic transition. If all these things have been going on, and you are thinking about doing fishing or cultivating, it appears strange to the people. People have started thinking, how to do Bio-remediation and cleanup alongside build up. So you can build up the economy alongside the cleanup. But maybe the question is what sort of cleanup? Now, if you think the cleanup in terms of huge installations or chemical detergents, I don’t think that’s going to work in the Niger Delta. Attempted cleanup where the institutional structure behind it is too big, too politicized and too top-down; that’s not going to work in the kind of communities you have in the Niger Delta. Moreso, because, if you talk to the youths of Bonny, Ijaw or the youths of the Ogonis, they are not easily going to receive large structures. They would feel they are been pushed around, and they are not getting anything out of it. So, instead of that, you have to talk to the Ogoni’s, the Ijaws, and the Bonny youths and carry them along. You have to discuss ways of bringing sensitive community related or community-based approach where you are perhaps using more natural methods. So there is all kind of bugs, I don’t mean computer bugs, that can be used in cleaning up the mess. There are all kinds of natural methods that can be used to clean up the mess. So, if you use those kinds of techniques, you are using nature’s way to put it straight. But you can get communities to get involved in the implementation process. In other words, if you grow the right kind of grass, then nature itself will do the work for you. Alongside that, you can bring back a robust agriculture plan. For example, Cassava is one of the things that pretty survive in difficult conditions, and you can turn it in fast. Palm Oil takes a little longer, you can grow Palm Oil, but it takes you four or five years to get money from that. So what the people need in the Delta now is a turnaround. They need changes, and also they need access to Finance. They are also in need of the know-how, as well as access to linkages. They need those things pulling together quite fast. What the MADE program is designed to do, is to try and get those inputs in and get those linkages together reasonably fast, and we are making progress. You can see that we are getting good responses from communities, but I think market development is an idea. Especially the side called market for the poor, which is a technique where you use market development to encourage economic growth and improve the poor as well as large economies. These things are only techniques. It is only an idea. We are trying to use market forces to make things work. If you look at the Banks, some people are pessimistic about the Banks in Nigeria. They are of the view that the banking system in the entire Federal economy is only supplying one and a half percent of the entire financing need of the Nation. That is an incredibly small percentage for a national banking system. It means the banking systems are much too small, but that means inside the banks are a lot of people that are thinking of how to get out to this new mass market. Some banks, like some Microfinance banks, already have systems where they have fields officers to go to associations or cooperatives to move loans or recover loans. So MADE is working with these banks. We know they have to deliver a system, so it is easier to work with them in some ways. We are also working with the Banks to provide non-banking services. So when you are working with the commercial banks, whether they are wholesale or retail, it is quite interesting. At the moment in Nigeria, some of these generalizations that banks are not interested in the development of the new market is not true. The associations and cooperatives have these stronger ideas that they want to stand on their own feet and join the value chain. However, they do need access to fiancé to do it. Then you have a much better set up inside the associations and the cooperatives and, in particular, strong women leaders as well as men leaders. They get together, and they say to their members, if we want money from this bank, we have to borrow and pay back, and they lend us again next year. But if we don’t do that, they will lend it one time, and they won’t come back. Then people start to have an idea of medium term and longer term. I think a lot of small farmers and businesses are beginning to think like that. So the level of what we call non-performing loan is going down, and the confidence of the bank is gradually going up. We say to the farmers associations, we will help you to get together with the banks and say to the banks we will help you to get together with the clients. You would see that both sides get more confident in the relationship. So that’s an example of what we are doing to create linkages. They come up with their ideas on cassava, or rice or cocoa or palm oil and they say, this is what we want to do and they explain it to the bank and the bank provide the loans.
What has been the challenge so far?
I think the challenges have been several. One major Challenge has been the negative media coverages. We need to seize the moment and the new found confidence that Nigerian people have about themselves. We must not allow a part, unfortunately, of the Nigerian media and some parts of the political culture in the society that is tended in a sort of way to pull the country down. When you get and incidence, say in Plateau and there is a shooting in a bar, then you see how it is reported in the Newspaper, it could be sometimes appalling. If it happens in Barkinladi or even in the Niger Delta, does the journalist write “In the town where there is a division between Christians and Muslims, one more shooting in a bar near Jos”. But when you investigate, someone tells you it was more of a social issue that has no bearing to religious or ethnic divide. So you see that it had nothing to do with North and South, Christian and Muslim or political problem. It was just a social problem, and it was a bit about family and individuals. That could happen anywhere. So I think the psychology of how you present the country matters. When you achieve successes, you don’t see much of it on newspapers headlines. In a way, we have to present Nigeria as a success story, and there are successes. The kind of successes that is impressive. For example, the farmers who are quite poor in the cooperatives and associations in the Delta areas producing cassava started in the last two years instinctively to cluster themselves to form associations. People are starting to cluster the processes of farms themselves without international experts or people from any agricultural development programs coming to them. They have started doing it themselves because they want to join the bigger economy, so they are looking for better opportunities. So the first thing is getting success stories like that where they are getting better organized themselves, and you publicize it. Secondly, with regards to the international communities and experts, when we first started looking at cassava, two years ago, then, people will come from outside and say cassava won’t work, it is too complicated, you can’t get the land, specification is too complicated. So they said we should do something else like chicken or fish, I then say to them, chicken and fish fine, but you can’t abandon a huge product like cassava and then we got a change in attitude, and then people start to say I see some changes in the cassava industry. I hear some people are making HQCF, I hear some people are buying HQCF. I hear that their high-quality cassava flour could make noodles and biscuits as well as bread and I hear some people are making ice cream cones in the Niger Delta out of cassava. Who would believe that Nigeria will dream that up and succeed in doing it, but they are doing it and doing it largely by their efforts and we are not publicizing these things very much. So I think if you take that examples of where there are new improved fishery smoking skills, you take the examples of where some of the new imaginative, innovative banks are building up big clients base by moving to a market that was before considered too risky, you have a new narrative. You don’t have to go to London, America, South Korea to see it working, it is working in Nigeria, but for some reasons, we prefer sending delegations to South Korea to find out how they succeed in solving poverty. Nigerian women are fantastically good for repaying agricultural loans and then you have a very low failure rate. So the key thing is, if we empower the women and young girls more in agriculture, they will help talk to their fathers and brothers, then agriculture would no longer be an industry where average age is going to 45 to 46 or 50 to 52, but younger people will come into agriculture. So I think it is our job in the media and development agencies to spread these stories and to help give more confidence to the Nigerian people. Oil and gas contribute about 18% maybe to GDP, Agriculture contributes at least 26 to 27% even with the re-basing. So it is bigger and growth is, not oil and gas, growth is from the other sectors. Agriculture is growing fast in this country, so I think maybe we have to teach people to look at the new Nigeria they didn’t quite see that is around them. One of the problem with small scale agriculture, small holders and these vast numbers of plus 13 million MSEs, Micro, Small Medium Enterprises in Nigeria is that, if you are a big guy in a big company, or in the civil service and then you look around, you, you may not see them. You may never see all the little people around you that will make this nation’s economy great, because they will together make a little bit of investment and little bit of effort and that collective effort by huge number of small people is what is going to make the country grow. It will take a little more time to understand. Now if you look at the value chain, 70% of the money is going to be raised by the people who are in subsistence or are just coming out of subsistence who are going to be pulling their eighty thousand naira into the economy. Now if ten million people pull in eighty thousand into the economy, that is an enormous boost to the economy and maybe what we fail to explain to people is that of course, it is interesting to note that some does well more than the other. So I think the secret for Nigeria in the next twenty to thirty years is a boost in the small scale economy and it is what is going to balance everything up and give us much stronger middle class in the economy. As soon as that starts to grow you will find the country changing around you and a much better future in a much more diversified economy for new generations of school children and graduates coming up. So when I am talking to the school kids and graduates now, I tell them when you finish in three years or ten years, you will be applying for a job in a different Nigeria and that is the one where this small business would have grown up, and the middle-level operators would have gone bigger. And then you have a much better chance. That is what is going to happen next, and I say to the investors if you can see what is happening, join it now before everything is organized.