• Monday, July 15, 2024
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Nigeria must move its focus beyond food to nutrition security – USSEC

Nigeria must move its focus beyond food to nutrition security – USSEC

The U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) recently brought together leading U.S. Soy industry leaders and exporters with key industry leaders from the Nigerian soybean value chain at its recent conference in Lagos. At the event, Lance Rezac, USSEC Chairman and Kevin Roepke, Regional Director – South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa of USSEC had this interview with Josephine Okojie, discussing USSEC’s mission in Nigeria and its support to the country’s feed industry. Excerpts:

To what extent would you say the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) has contributed towards solving Nigeria’s food and nutrition problems?

Rezac: USSEC has been around for many years, and we’ve done this in other countries too. We started in China back when China was growing its own soy and exporting some of it. We shared technical expertise with the Chinese to improve their pork and aquaculture production. As a result, China doubled its domestic soy production and grew its swine industry. This enabled them to raise their standard of living by making animal protein more accessible.

Read also: Nigeria food crisis demands bold action

In Nigeria, our focus is to help the poultry and aquaculture industries by empowering them with the knowledge needed to boost production. There’s a lot of potential there, and we’ve learned how to do it in the U.S. and showed other countries how to do it, as well. We’re hopeful that in Nigeria we can work with the feed millers, and the poultry industry, and get these industries growing by continuing to share our knowledge and expertise.

Nigerians are eager to learn and at USSEC one of our pillars is knowledge sharing. We have great experts from around the world who have done this before. And we are confident that we can help Nigeria move its poultry industry forward in providing protein for everyone in the country.

How is the knowledge transferred? Do you bring in experts from the U.S. down to Nigeria to work across the aquaculture and poultry value chains?

Rezac: Our experts from all around the world, visit Nigeria and work with the growers and feed manufacturers to make sure the nutrition is correct. We have input on the different genetics that work for us, and some of the genetics might work in Nigeria. We’re trying to provide that expert knowledge to help the industry grow.

The Soy Excellence Center (SEC), a USSEC initiative has been collaborating with local industry, academia, as well as the Nigerian government since 2019. We’ve trained over 2,000 Nigerians through this workforce development and capacity-building initiative, focusing on entry and mid-level career professionals. The curriculum was designed and developed in the United States by Kansas State University, but it’s implemented by Nigerians with the knowledge and expertise of the local conditions. So, it has very much a Nigerian flavour.

For now, we are focusing on poultry, feed milling, and aquaculture sectors. Perhaps one day we’ll design a dairy track as well. But that’s just one example of this knowledge transfer initiative for entry-to-mid-level career professionals. We also have knowledge transfer for decision makers and high-level executives through more advanced teachings and cultural exchanges where delegations from Nigeria visit the U.S. and vice versa.

When people talk about importing grains from the US, they think; ‘is it GM or non-GM? How does this play out in soybeans; do customers get to decide which one they bring into Nigeria?

Rezac: We pride ourselves on being a supplier of choice. We are one of the largest producers and exporters of GM. We’re also one of the largest producers and exporters of non-GM as well. So that’s a market-driven decision that consumers globally make based on their preferences. It’s a choice. But one thing that I would like to say is that I grew my first GM crops in 1996.

Since then, there’s been millions and billions of meals made with them. In the U.S., over 90 percent of the soy grown is GM and we use it ourselves all the time. It’s very well accepted. But we can provide a choice. However, I’d like to highlight the fact that most of the world, well, China and Europe, all buy GM soy because it’s so well accepted. This demonstrates how much of the market is largely GM, and a small portion that is non-GM.

Some countries buy GM soybeans or soybean meal to feed their livestock. While keeping the non-GM for human consumption. Nigeria has a lot of non-GM soy, which in the world has a higher value than GM. They could potentially benefit from exporting their non-GM soy to some countries that want it and bringing in the GM soy to feed their livestock at a lower cost. There’s some potential there that they can take advantage of.

Read also: Food Insecurity: Experts see GMO as solution to Nigeria food crisis 

What would be the major takeaways of USSEC following its delegation interactions with key stakeholders in Nigeria?

Rezac: There’s an enthusiasm in Nigerians and a will to want change and make their country better for everyone. However, there’s a lot of concern about the younger generation in Nigeria coming up and the need to create opportunities for them. We would like to collaborate with the agriculture industry and position it as a significant player in the upcoming generation’s food and nutrition.

Yearly, USSEC and others put together an annual executive programme in Nigeria. How has the yearly event helped the Nigerian feed industry?

Roepke: This is the fourth year of the conference and the third year that it is being held in Lagos. I think there are a couple of pillars that the conference emphasises.

The first is built around knowledge sharing, a transfer of information from one side to the other. And this is a two-way street. It’s not just one way. USSEC has experts. Nigeria has experts, and I think both are mutually beneficial. This is a good platform for information discovery and knowledge sharing.

The second, of course, is networking. We talked a lot about it in the previous meeting about breaking down silos. Building trust, and accountability so that we can see these agricultural industries in Nigeria excel to the level that they have the potential of being.

The third is forward-looking and asking the question: where do you see this industry in five or ten years? How can we, as the U.S. Soybean Export Council and U.S. Soy and U.S. Soy Farmers, help be a catalyst or an enabler of that? We pride ourselves in supporting the industry, working with the industry collaboratively to help develop them to provide more nutrition and support Nigeria’s nutrition security.

At present Nigeria has issues around payments, especially with foreign exchange market volatility. From your experience in other markets, have you had places where they had similar challenges? How did they navigate this?

Roepke: There are many other countries in the world facing challenges with foreign currency reserves. I think what you’re seeing develop is a huge emphasis on leaning into the concept of comparative advantage.

By doing so, countries can deploy resources, be it time, labour, or capital, to produce the goods or services that they have a comparative advantage of globally through exporting as many of those products and services as they possibly can., Meanwhile maximising the productivity of the various crops or commodities.

Nigeria and the U.S. have comparative and competitive advantages in agricultural products, including soybeans. In which areas can both countries collaborate to expand trade?

Roepke: Concerning agriculture, the U.S. is not only the world’s largest food exporter, we’re also the world’s largest food importer. This year, we will import more food than we export. So by this fact alone, we’re leaning into this concept of comparative advantage as well.

Nigeria has a lot of comparative advantages – it’s in its people. The people of this country are ambitious, entrepreneurial, and hardworking. I think those values are fundamental and will lead to value-added agriculture. And that’s where I see Nigeria going forward, where the country should be looking for value-added agriculture.

The poultry sector, the aquaculture sector, agricultural processing, and things like that, I think, have a lot of potential here in Nigeria.

Read also: Food crisis worsens in Plateau, Benue as insecurity escalates

In your opinion how can Nigeria tackle its rising malnutrition rate and its worst food crisis?

Roepke: One of the things is rethinking the concept or the discussion around food security and elevating it to nutrition security. It’s not just about your total caloric intake. It’s about your nutrition, ensuring you’re eating a balanced diet. The key critical element of that is making sure you’re getting enough protein -whether it comes from soy directly or poultry products. Eggs are a fantastic opportunity for Nigeria. They have a natural 30-day shelf life and are quite cheap. You can eat one, two, or three eggs daily, and effectively manage your protein requirements. That is an immediate solution to food and nutrition security right there.

We are also very impressed by the will of the people in Nigeria. The attitudes, opportunities and positivity, especially in the private sector, are incredible and inspiring. It draws us to continue to work with and collaborate with the local private sector. I think the private sector will be leaders in the entire world, in Africa, and especially here in Nigeria. We’re fortunate and happy to be working with them.

What would be your key takeaway?

Roepke: As I mentioned, we need to elevate the conversation from food security to nutrition security. Getting people full bellies or getting people enough calories is no longer the ultimate goal. However, making sure that they are nutritionally satisfied is the ultimate goal.

We’ve seen food inflation in Nigeria spiralling upwards of 40 percent. Chronic and moderately undernourished people in Nigeria are hovering around nearly 70 percent. These are aspects that I think need critical attention right now.