The AACE Stories
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WORLD FOOD DAY: THE BUSINESS OF SOLVING POVERTY AND HUNGER
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. It is shocking that we have failed to realize the depth of the hunger-challenge we face as a nation, about thirty percent of our children are stunted and with stunted growth, it affects their educational pursuits, gives inability to keen to employment and endurance to live a full and meaningful life. Thus, about forty to fifty percent of our fruits and vegetables in Nigeria goes to the waste even though sixty percent of our population works in Agriculture but we still export ninety percent of the processed foods we eat. As a nation, we are facing the crisis of hunger and poverty which is affecting our labor force; about seventeen percent wage loss which is equivalent to the loss of about fifteen billion dollars annually all because of our failure to provide micro-nutrients foods for our children. We also recognize that with the crisis in 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 clearly man-made because we have created them through corruption, inability to invest in local processing, and inability to invest in modern fighting of malnutrition because of the neglect of our agricultural sector which is resulting to low yields and waste. The sad reality is that even though our government stipulated that all manufacturers of oil, flour, sugar, and salt should fortify their products with vitamin A and iodine, it is only two percent of the companies we have in Nigeria who practice this. We have neglected the issue of hunger and poverty in our country, and the question is, 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 only that, opportunities and circumstances made the difference; however, each of these individuals deserves to have a full and meaningful life.
As someone who has really been challenged to do more for this country, I decided to start a number of companies alongside my husband which are focused on addressing hunger and poverty. The first one is AACE Foods, AACE Foods demonstrates the impact you can make in this nation when you source locally. We currently work with ten thousand farmers in northern Nigeria, providing them with micro-finances, training, and technological supports which is serving as empowerment to them and their community. In addition, the transporters who carry the produce belong to specified companies that provide one meal daily and health insurance to staffs and also all the women who distribute the products. We are also empowering retailers at the market which means we engaging the from farm-to-fork system of operation. Another 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 imported and with this, they neglect the lives of our farmers who deserve access to a 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 through this is that, a few years ago, I visited an IDP (internally displaced 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 kilograms (5kg), which was fifty percent of the birth weight she should have. A simple attack of diarrhea or fever would have killed her but by eating our SOYAMAIZE, Fatima’s life was drastically transformed. However, even though we can provide SOYAMAIZE in Nigeria, tremendous amount of foods from the world food program are still imported into this country which are supporting farmers of other countries when we should be feeding our people with the foods grown in our country.
Also, through the Nigerian Dairy Development Program, in partnership with Friesland Campina and L&Z, we are putting farmers in clusters which demonstrate what private sector-led developments can achieve. These two companies mentioned have said, “instead of importing all the milk that we consume in this country, we are going to source milk from the Fulani herdsmen”. Through this program, 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 empower our generation with nutritious foods. Beyond dairy, we are also working in a range of areas transforming value chains. 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, therefore, we are introducing seed system in yam and cassava in communities, 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 micro-finance trust through Sahel Capital Agribusiness Managers Limited which manages the funds for financing agriculture. Financing remains a huge challenge and organizations such as Sahel is providing private equity to agricultural processing companies across the country to achieve their goals. 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; it provides opportunities to link individuals to farm produces, another is Crowberry; they use technology to ensure that expiring foods get into the hands of those who need it at much-reduced rate. Lastly is hello tractor; this is really the Uber of tractors in Nigeria; they provide 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. Over the past five years, Union bank has also been supporting LEAP Africa through our social innovator’s program, 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 innovative 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 of 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 large scale and these are required by 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’. 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, it is important to build ourselves as a country, I strongly believe in a legacy of vision and action for the future generation but it requires everyone in the private sector devoting their finances; treasury, time and resource toward a course for a better future. This means we 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 we have to make on the future generation.
I will conclude with this quote by Nelson Mandela which 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 a 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 larger, therefore, your help your help is needed by them. 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 lifetime.
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