LAPO’s efforts to tackle poverty
An address by the founder of Lift Above Poverty Organization (LAPO), Godwin Esewi Ehigiamusoe at the 23rd LAPO yearly development forum held at the Shehu Musa Yar’adua International Conference Centre, Abuja,on Tuesday, October 18, 2016.
I am delighted to welcome you to the 23rd edition of the Annual LAPO Development Forum with the theme: Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture in Nigeria: Challenges and Opportunities. This theme is timely and has relevance to our collective aspiration for the emergence of agriculture-led post oil- economy.
Like previous editions of the LAPO Annual Development Forum, which focused on issues and challenges of development, this session will address the imperatives of food security within the context of diversification of the national economy.
The importance of attainment of national food security cannot be over-emphasized; it has economic and socio-political implications. Food security is one of the critical indicators of or indexes of national power and influence. A nation which depends on food import as we do today remains vulnerable in the politics of international economic relations. Also, capital flight; under-development of the agriculture sector; wide spread unemployment and lack of raw materials for the manufacturing sector are among the consequences of food dependency.
Agriculture had played a vital role in the economic development of Nigeria pre and immediate post- independence era. The then regional governments initiated various schemes and programmes to ensure self-sufficiency in food production and cash crops for export. These included farm settlements, commodity marketing boards and dedicated financing mechanisms such as cooperative banks. With the discovery of oil in commercial quantity and subsequent years of oil boom agricultural development lost momentum. Farm settlements were abandoned; cooperative banks which primarily met the needs of farmers were for whatever reasons transformed into commercial banks; and produce marketing cooperative unions were neglected. Also, every agricultural research institute across the country has become a shadow of itself.
In the past years, policy commitment to economic diversification through agriculture has remained in the realm of platitudes. Yes, several targeted programmes and institutions have been initiated and funded to support agriculture. However, our current dependence on food import is clear testimony of the failure of these initiatives. Various data indicate that poorly resourced small holder farmers still account for over 90 percent of Nigeria’s agricultural output. The result according to UNICEF, is that over 65 percent of Nigeria’s population is “food insecure”.
The current slump in oil price and consequent dip in national revenue has brought to the fore the danger of over-dependence on a single national income stream. Agricultural development is certainly the most viable path to diversification of the economy. The current emphasis on agricultural development is worth of our commendation. The various initiatives including the interventions by the Central Bank of Nigeria; Rural Finance
Institutions Building Programme ( RUFIN) amongst others must be sustained. Indeed, additional initiatives are urgently needed.
Agricultural development is also in need of men and women of enterprise. We need the kind of entrepreneurial spirit which swept through the banking sector in the 1990s.
At LAPO we have over the years made our strong commitment to funding of activities in the rural economy within our institutional mandate of poverty alleviation. We gave provided N20,7billion as agricultural loans to micro and small enterprisesengaged in livestock, arable and tree crops farming.
Permit me to make some comments on LAPO; I initiated Lift Above Poverty Organization (LAPO) in the late 1980s solely to assist the poor particularly women to break out of the grip of poverty. The organization addresses poverty with access to finance, health and social empowerment programmes. Its microfinance bank that is, LAPO Microfinance Bank Limited, is a foremost pro-poor financial institution in South-Saharan Africa.
LAPO Microfinance Bank has disbursed N455.5 billion to owners of micro and small enterprises. It currently serves a customer base of 2.3 million in 28 states in addition to the Federal Capital Territory. LAPO played a major role in addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1990s and early 2000. It is currently implementing massive malaria and cancer awareness programmes.
The first edition of LAPO Annual Development Forum was organized in April 1994. Each edition is devoted to addressing critical development issues with the aim of proffering practical solutions. It is a credit to my colleagues that we have never missed a year. This 23rd edition is to address the all important issue of food security and sustainable agriculture. As usual, we expect frank discussions and workable solutions and we are confident that given the pedigree and diverse nature of the facilitators and the audience we will not be disappointed.
We sincerely thank His Excellency Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR and former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a notable farmer and a tireless crusader for a better Nigeria and a better Africa for accepting to give the keynote address. We are also grateful to Dr. Ntaranya Sanginga, the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Ibadan and Prof. Valentine Aletor, former Vice-Chancellor of Elizade University who will be speaking on “Enhancing Youth Employment through Agricultural Development” and “Agriculture, Women Empowerment and Food Security,” respectively.
We will like to thanks everyone for coming, particularly, our friends who have over the years been the source of our strength. I sincerely welcome you to the 23rd Annual LAPO Development Forum. God bless.