In this interview, Olubunmi Abejirin, the convener of the Omolayole Management Lecture Series and President of the AIESEC Alumni Nigeria, speaks with the press on issues bordering on strengthening the agricultural sector and combating the looming food scarcity.
Please what is the AIESEC-supported Omolayole Management Lecture and what impact have they made over the years?
AIESEC is an international youth leadership organization that prepares students while in school to take leadership and management positions. It is the largest youth-run transformative leadership organization which aims to promote social understanding and develop management skills, and entrepreneurship through practical experiences of many kinds, including internships, volunteering opportunities, and community programs among others.
AIESECs’ core values are striving for excellence, demonstrating integrity, activating leadership, acting sustainably, enjoying participation, and living diversity.
The Omolayole Management Lecture (OML) series started in 1984 to honor Dr. Michael Omolayole for his support for AIESEC Nigeria (AN). He was very instrumental in carrying out international exchanges for AIESEC students within and outside Nigeria.
AIESEC, present in over 1,700 universities across 126 countries, started in 1948, to contribute to fostering world peace and forestalling the Third World War.
The Omolayole Management Lecture (OML) is hosted in partnership with four other organizations that Dr. Omolayole has led in the past: Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM), Nigeria Institute of Management (NIM), Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) and Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry(LCCI). These partners are responsible for organizing the lecture and rotating hosting rights.
We organize think tanks and collaborative sessions where subject matter experts, analysts, industry stakeholders, and regulators come together to analyze and forecast where we need to get to, and what we need to do to get there. The sessions foster solutions to existing challenges, which are usually provided to the government, policymakers, and other advocacy groups. So, over the years, we have drafted and submitted communiques to relevant stakeholders, two years ago, we delivered it to the Vice President, and last year we sent it to the House of Assembly.
This year, we are aiming much higher, instead of just submitting white papers and publishing communiques, we are going to see how we can further engage major stakeholders, both in the public and private sector so that something tangible can be done.
So part of our impact is creating an enabling environment for new ideas and providing solutions to existing problems that we have in Nigeria.
Today, we decided to look at agriculture in light of the current landscape of the Russia-Ukraine war, the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its consequences. We are sounding the alarm bell on the Nigerian food security issue as food security is a National sovereignty issue
What is the rationale for the theme “Sustainability Development in the Agricultural Sector”?
Living sustainably is one of the core values of AIESEC, not only that; we all need to think about sustainability in light of climate change and environmental degradation. Whatever it is we’re doing has to be done in such a way that it doesn’t destroy the future of the environment for future generations.
So, every business should make money and operate their business in a way that does not degrade the environment or destroy it. We should also act sustainably even when it comes to agriculture thereby creating better opportunities for future generations to also take part in the sector.
How do we feed Nigeria’s 200 million people, noting that food insecurity leads to unproductivity and general unrest?
If agriculture is being done in a sustainable manner where food is available and affordable food security is maintained, it makes it easier for the country to move forward to the next level.
How is the Russian-Ukraine war affecting us?
It is not only affecting us: it is affecting every country in the world. Russia and Ukraine are the highest exporters of wheat and barley, used in confectionaries, bread, and so on, while the highest importers of wheat or barley are in Africa.
So, if we are unable to get our supply, we will be unable to meet the food required to feed Nigerians, and this will result in inflation and scarcity. Russia is also an exporter of energy and the disruption of energy supply to Europe and other countries, has led to an increase in the cost per gallon of oil in the US, Europe, and many parts of Africa.
This war has also crippled some of the supply chain opportunities as vessels carrying goods are being re-routed because of the war. Lastly, a large number of Nigerian students in universities as well as Nigerian migrants in Ukraine have had to find an emergency exit. The war displaced people, not only within Europe but also displaced Africans who had already settled there. So the effect is far-reaching and in every way imaginable
So, what are the things that Nigeria needs to do to mitigate the impact of that war on our agricultural sector?
We need to strengthen the research and development capability of our agricultural research institutes by leveraging modern technology. We should also improve storage facilities for our perennial crops so that they are available in season and out of season.
Nigeria has an opportunity to scale up irrigation as we presently depend on seasonal rainfall exposing us to seasonal draught annually. The commodities market needs to be revitalized to enable farmers to aggregate their products for export, as well as the end-to-end food value chain, from the farm to the fork, so to say.
That starts with this kind of conversation. We will also go the extra mile by making the general public and policymakers aware of the risk at hand if we do not do anything about our food security.
The Nigerian government has always talked about diversifying the economy through agriculture, and there have been a series of events and meetings, but the sector is yet to maximize its potential. What are your thoughts on this?
I believe, to a large extent, Nigeria is being plagued by the syndrome of taking the path of least resistance, we need to do the hard work of developing the agricultural sector and swim against the tide, deploying cutting-edge technology.
We also need to take advantage of the vast arable landmass that is available while using technology to cushion the effects of natural issues like drought, rainfall, floods, pestilence, and climate change. Not forgetting to tackle man-made issues such as insecurity, and farmer-herder conflicts.
What are your closing thoughts on what must be done urgently to avert the looming danger of food scarcity?
Today’s event was an eye-opener. Do not take the rice, the tomatoes, and the beans for granted. The prices are inching ever higher daily and will continue if nothing is done now. I believe that food security is something we need to put on the front burner alongside insecurity and other pressing issues of National interest.