1. To prove that govt can be trusted to do what it says
2. To prove the Niger Delta can be food basket, too
3. Shows how $97m is empowering 25,000 youths and women
By Ignatius Chukwu & Helen Chimezie
Many only looked at empowerment of women and the youth as the core objectives of the LIFE-ND. Now, the national Coordinator has revealed the real intention as he believes in his heart.
The experiment to change the narrative in the Niger Delta and prove that the oil region can also be a food basket is said to be succeeding fast.
This was the conclusion at the end of the mid-term review of the Livelihood Improvement Project in the Niger Delta (LIFE-ND) which was launched three years ago by the Federal Government (FG), the International Fund for Agric Development (IFAD) with additional funding from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Giving the verdict as part of assessment, the National Project Coordinator, Biodun Sanni, said the project which started effectively in 2020 but was conceived to run from 2019 to 2025 was to also show that the FG did not ignore the Niger Delta.
Sanni said what LIFE-ND hoped to prove in six years at the back of their mind is to change the narrative; that the Niger Delta is not an agrarian region and that the youths of the region are not enthusiastic about agric.
Speaking to newsmen at Villa Tuscona Luxe in the GRA 1 in Port Harcourt where the midterm review took place, the national project coordinator said the project has been able to change that mindset. “There is need to have trust in government and to build the faith in the region that government can make promises and fulfil it. That has led to patronage and demand for more by the youths in the region. By the end, we would have substantially proved that this trust of the youths. People would also see the Niger Delta as a food basket for Nigeria as a country.”
The engineer equally debunked the impression that LIFE-ND has only one success story in cassava processing, saying they have many in many states in the region but that the mission team only visited the one in Aboh in Ndokwa LGA of Delta State.
He said the review was necessitated by the fact that it is three years being half of the project life.
Giving full account of LIFE-ND, the country director of IFAD, Dede Ekoue, told newsmen in an interview that the project is; “The outreach was planned to reach 25,000 small holder entrepreneurs and farmers by the end of 2025. They have already reached over 14,000, this being proof that they have been able to reach more than 50 per cent by midterm of the project life cycle.
“We have seen that the programme is implanting some projects that are typical for the community. We were at Aboh community in Warri and we could see their cassava processing mill put in place there.
“This mill is helping reduce post-harvest loss (waste), generating income for the cassava farmers, and giving job to the youths in the area. It is also seen as a catalyst for transformation of the rural economy.”
The striking thing, she said, is that local communities have taken ownership of the project such as was seen in Aboh where they contributed to set up the cassava mill. They are also said to be contributing to put a management system in place. “They put some funds together to buy a computer to manage their work and the mill.
“This is one example. Beyond that, what I think is important is to highlight the fact that the FG and the states are also contributing to the project. This is a good example.
“If you have a project that is financed wholly by the international partner and nothing from the local community, it may be viewed that the project is not really in their hearts or the needs of the people. So, we appreciate this coming together of the different layers and their contributions financially and otherwise.”
She paid huge tributes to the progress of LIFE-ND which she said was selected as one of the projects that shared their experience at the level of West and Central Africa, which means that something innovative is happening here.
“One of the innovations we see is technology (ICT) for all and the opportunity to listen to some of their issues. They were with us in Abuja to define the new strategy for rural development.
“This is one innovation that we see as wholly important. I want to thank the incubators or mentors that are coaching the youths. We need to have people in the community who are willing to support the scheme.
“Quickly, let us remember the successes, good outreach of the youths, training of youth entrepreneurship and installation of business. They have that.”
On some challenges, Ekoue said: “We know that when youths are in business, they need financial support. So, financial inclusion has remained a challenge. This is something we are committed to continue working on. We are calling on financial institutions to really invest in the youth.
“The second challenge is something that is on the way of being addressed. It is the hanging contribution of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). We are funding three states but we were assured by the NDDC CEO that this contribution would kick in soon. He said he would allow us to replicate the projects we have achieved in the three other states (Imo, Akwa Ibom and Rivers states).
Supplying the financials, the project information note indicated that the fund is valued at $97.8m dedicated to youth and women empowerment scheme in the Niger Delta.
The briefing note showed that the project has hit 55.5 per cent by mid-2023. The review panel also learnt that the NDDC’s counterpart fund of $30m has scaled through in the Commission’s 2023 budget at the National Assembly.
Ekoue said the target figure is 25,500 but that 14,155 beneficiaries have been reached in six states of Abia, Cross River, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, and Ondo.
She said hopes are high that over 12,000 others would join from Imo, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom as soon as the $30m from the NDDC drops.
She said the programme would be made faster the moment the fund is released to meet 100 per cent target of 25,500 participants.
She said the objective is to enhance income, food security, and job creation for rural youth and women through agri-enterprise development on a sustainable basis in the Niger Delta region. IFAD brought $60m while the FG and the states were to bring $7.8m to add to the $30m NDDC is soon to bring.
Partnering with the private sector, she said the programme is using the mentorship system to train trainers and do massive replication of skills and competences in the agric value chain.
She said the project participants have already mobilized a total of N7.3m savings from their enterprises and in addition leveraged N33.7m credit.
She said it has fulfilled IFAD’s basic objective of stirring economic and investment interest in the rural areas, create awareness, attract additional funds, and stimulate collaborations in communities.
In his remarks, the director, project coordinating unit (PCU), Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Peter Kush, said the cassava processing business was highly appreciated by communities.
He said improving the economies of individuals and communities like LIFE-ND does is what boosts the national economy.
He said they were happy that the NDDC fund was around the corner because IFAD cannot spend for others due to process regulations.
In an interview, the NDDC representative, Seigha Glasgow, from fishery unit, said the budget has been passed and the new managing director, Sam Ogbuku, has recently expressed the commitment of the Commission to pay it’s counterpart fund for over 12,000 participants to join.
On how LIFE-ND would catch up when the NDDC fund is released, Sanni said they would deploy strategies to meet especially as there is no COVID-19 panic any more. “I will like to say as a Commission, structures were put in place so that immediately the funds are released, we catalise the processes and move fast. Luckily, some of the natural obstacles such as COVID are over.
“We will fast track and hit the ground running to achieve programme objectives. Once the funds are released, we will meet the targets in these three states.
He did not agree that the delay in NDDC fund amounted to a failure on the part of the Commission.
He said: “They have made other in-kind contributions to the project. It is external processes that have delayed release of the funds. We are happy that the challenges have been surmounted.”
Also speaking in an interview, Peter Kush, head of the project coordinating unit (PCU) at the Federal Ministry of Agric, reacted to insinuations that the FG does not show evience of massive production to reduce hunger. Hold newsmen that the FG does not have land for cultivation. “FG only sets up colleges of agriculture to facilitate agric training. The focus has been on FG but it’s the state governments that own the lands. They have to look inward.
“FG is to make policies to facilitate on how the agric production would come into play. For the FG to even execute any physical project, they have to get the land from the states.
“In terms of economic development, if individuals are able to build themselves in terms of funding, and capacity, the more production centres you have, you aggregate this to add to value to the national economy. Individuals come together to build the economy.”
If 25,500 youths and women of the oil region make good use of $97.8m in six years to boost self-development and agripreneurship, the Niger Delta may become a different place.