In 2008, I was engaged by a large multinational that wanted to enter Nigeria, they wanted to introduce nutritious products to the country, however, as a consultant, I traveled the length and breadth of Nigeria, and I was shocked at what I learned. The following statistics might appear normal but Nigerians have failed to realize the depth of the hunger challenge we face About thirty percent of our children are stunted and when they are stunted it affects their educational pursuits, inability to keen to employment and to live full and meaningful life. Thus, about forty to fifty percent of our fruits and vegetables in Nigeria go to waste even though sixty percent of our population works in Agriculture but we export ninety percent of processed foods we eat.
As a nation, we are facing a crisis of hunger and poverty which is affecting our labor force and leading to about seventeen percent wage loss and resulting to about fifteen billion dollars loss every year because of our failure to provide micro-nutrients to our children. We also recognize that with the crisis in the northern Nigeria, about 4.7 million people are food insecure. Hunger in Nigeria is draining our workforce and killing our future, most of the causes are definitely man-made because we have created them through corruption, inability to invest in local processing, inability to invest in fighting modern malnutrition because we are neglecting of our agricultural sector that is resulting to low yields and waste.
The sad reality is that even though our country stipulates that all manufacturers of oil, flour, sugar and salt should be fortified with vitamin A, iodine, but only two percent of some of our companies do so. In fact, we have neglected the issue of hunger and poverty in our country, why should our children suffer because of the changes we have refused to make? I love this quote by the late Koffi Annan which essentially says that “a man is not free if he’s hungry because on a daily basis he focuses on his next meal”. We see these children every day, in the traffic, in our villages, communities, they are the nieces and nephews, the Aishas in Gombe, Segun in urban Lagos, Uche in Onitsha. They are definitely not different from our children but only opportunities and circumstances made the difference, however, each of these individuals deserve to have a full and meaningful life.
As someone who has really been challenged to do more, I decided to start a number of companies alongside my husband, and focused on addressing hunger and poverty. The first one is AACE FOODS, AACE FOODS demonstrates the impact you can make when you source locally. We currently work with ten thousand farmers in Northern Nigeria providing them with microfinance, training and technology supports and through that we have empower them. In addition, the transporters who carry the produce have own companies that provides a one meal and health insurance to staffs and also all the women who distributes the products. We have also empowered retailers at the market meaning from farm to fork.
The sad reality is that, most manufacturing companies in Nigeria do not source locally and do not have any incentive to source locally. In fact, all they really use are the humans who help them package the products they bring into the country as they neglect the lives of our farmers who deserve access to better life for themselves and children. Through our work, we have also invested in fighting modern malnutrition and we provide complementary food “SOYAMAIZE” which is fortified with vitamins and minerals.
The classic example of the impact we have made is that; few years ago, I visited an IDP (internally displayed people) camp in Durumi, Abuja and I met a young baby named Fatima, Fatima’s family had been affected by Boko Haram, so they traveled from Borno state and ended up in the IDP camp outside Abuja. Fatima was seven months old and weighs five kilogram (5kg), which was fifty percent of the birth weight she should have, there are many Fatimas out there. A simple attack of diarrhea or fever would have killed her but by eating our SOYAMAIZE, Fatima’s life was transformed but the sad reality is that even though we can provide SOYAMAIZE in Nigeria, we still import tremendous amount of foods from the world food program which is supporting farmers of other countries when we should be feeding our people with the foods grown in our country.
Through the Nigerian Diary Development Program, in partnership with Friesland Campina and L&Z, we are putting farmers in clusters which demonstrates what private sector led developments can achieve. These two companies have said “instead of importing all the milk that we consume in this country, we are going to source milk from the Fulani herdsmen”. We are providing training to farmers, giving them supports with artificial insemination, access to feeds and fodders empowering the women because they actually control the sales of milk as the men own the cows. The program is not only reducing the conflict between the communities in Oyo state in terms of settling our Fulani herdsmen but it is ensuring that we can displace the importation of milk and empowering our generation with nutritious foods.
Beyond dairy, we are also working in a range of areas transforming value chain and one of the biggest hindrances of our Agricultural sector in Nigeria is the fact that our yields are too low, we cannot compete with globally sourced foods, so we are introducing seed system in yam and cassava, ensuring that we can triple or quadruple yields that our farmers generate so we have enough food for our people to eat.
Beyond access to yields and technology we are also providing microfinance trust through Sahel Capital Agribusiness Managers Limited which manages the funds for financing agriculture. Financing remains a huge challenge and organizations such as Sahel are providing private equity to Agricultural processing companies across the country. These are just examples of what you can do if you want to solve problems. There are lots of companies doing their own part, companies like Farmcrowdy; they provides opportunities to link individuals to farm produces, another is Chowberry; they use technology to ensure that expiring foods get into the hands of those who needs it at much reduced rate and lastly is hello-tractor; this is really the Uber of tractors in Nigeria, they provides low cost tractors to farmers to ensure we have mechanization and increment of yields.
All of these interventions demonstrate that there are success stories in our country but most of them are operating at a very small scale. Union bank have also been supporting LEAP Africa through our social innovators program over the past five years, ensuring that young people who have innovative ideas to solve hunger and poverty are empowered to do so. SAFEMOM and UNFIRE are just two examples of the innovation invention that young people have introduced into Nigeria to transform the lives of people and ensure we have food for our people.
However, of all these initiatives, we have seen in statistics that by 2050, Nigeria is going to have four hundred and fifty million people but the question is HOW ARE WE GOING TO FEED THEM IF WE CANNOT FEED THE ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY MILLION THAT WE HAVE TODAY? It will take courage, vision, innovation at scale and that is required from every single individual. When we think about the two Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) associated with poverty and hunger, goal one says that “we must solve poverty and it requires a triple-down effect that even if our economy grows, we have to ensure that no one is left behind. Furthermore, the second goal on hunger says that we must unlock the opportunities in our agricultural business sector and ensure that we provide available and affordable foods for every Nigeria.
These goals might sound unachievable but with vision we can accomplish them. I am suggesting that we think about some of the plans that are already in place and we empower our citizens to rise up and provide food for themselves. When I consider the future, we as a country need to build ourselves, I strongly believe a legacy of vision and action for the future generation but it requires that everyone in the private sector devotes finances; treasury, time and resource toward a course for a better future. This means that we are going to have to leave our egos and logos at the door; realizing that it does not matter whose brand is at the front but what matters is the impact for the future generation.
I will conclude with this quote by Nelson Mandela that says “overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom”. The story of the Aishas, the Seguns, Uches, the young children who are born into poverty and can never achieve their highest potential should not be told hundred years from now. Our children and grandchildren will hold us accountable for what we did not do to transform this country.
The strategies are within our grasp, the organizations that are doing it are already there, all they need is to scale, so they need your help. I always say, if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go with others. It is the obligation of everyone to commit to solving hunger and poverty problem in our life time.
Ndidi O. Nwuneli (MFR): Co-Founder – AACE Food Processing & Distribution Ltd; Founder – LEAP Africa; Managing Partner – Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition on World Food Day at Union Bank: The Next 100