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Sustainability And Nigeria…Empty Rhetoric Or Are We Going To Be Realistic About It?


’Sustainability is good for business’’

A week ago I had a brief conversation with a senior colleague. He is Brazilian and lives in Nigeria. Activities on his Brazilian ranch are in perfect sync with his immediate local government. The outputs from his ranch transform into impact on a national scale. He, having a birds’ eye view of Brazil and Nigeria turned and said- ‘what is Nigeria doing about sustainability? I hear a lot of fancy words but I don’t see anything happening’.

I walked away from that conversation with a myriad of thoughts; because you see, as a sustainability professional in Nigeria, I knew that even though there was a lot of talk, this has yet to translate into real meaning for our country. As a nation, we have signed up to a few international sustainability conventions. In addition, the Nigerian financial industry has created a sustainability code. The truth? The man on the street has no idea what sustainability is and how this translates into real value for himself and his immediate community.

Whilst not trying to proffer an ultimate solution, this article seeks to explore suggestions for a more practical sustainability approach for Nigeria.  Sometimes, it is through the journey that one stumbles upon the solutions.

In 2015, the Nigerian government signed up to the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) – a new set of global sustainability goals put together by international sustainability experts including our very own Minister for the Environment Mrs. Amina J. Mohammed. A laudable effort for sure, however what has that really meant for the average Nigerian? I can tell you now, it is still seen as a very ‘fanciful’ concept; nothing to worry about just yet. Faced with more pressing domestic issues, Nigerians today will respond ‘’ have I finished setting food on the table before I start thinking about climate change’’. And that, is just my point. We must make the sustainability conversation one that is relevant and DOES put food (or power) on the table for the average Nigerian whilst also having an impact on our environment.

Nigerian banks today subscribe to a set of regulations/guidelines developed by the apex bank in conjunction with other stakeholders in the financial industry- the Nigerian Sustainability Business Principles. As a sustainability professional in financial services I can tell you without a doubt that apart from being an intrinsic source of pride to the sector, it is more of a have to do, than a change creator. How much reach has the adoption of the principles had in terms of concrete change to the lives and environment of Nigerians? Only the apex bank can actually tell us. However, banks ensure that they submit those half yearly reports on time; ticking the invisible box of ‘’duty completed’’.

I am going somewhere, stay with me reader.

To date, Brazil is still one of the best examples of how sustainability is really meant to be ‘lived out’.  It is by no accident that I started with an anecdote from a Brazilian colleague. Brazil has embraced the concept of sustainability in such a way that even the common man gets it. He understands how sustainability really does ‘’put food on his table’’.

In 2013, Brazil created a public-private partnership vehicle – Brazilian Business and Ecosystem Services Partnership (PESE). This group was made up of corporate players from the retail, mining, agribusiness, cosmetics and food & beverage sectors in conjunction with government headed environmental agencies. The PESE had the sole aim of institutionalizing sustainability into Brazil. Clear case of moving from rhetoric to practical demonstration.

Allow me to use two illustrative examples:

Walmart in Brazil tackled the environmental challenges associated with its supply of beef. Because cattle ranches occupy more than 70 percent (PDF) of the deforested Amazon region, Walmart set a target of achieving a beef supply chain with zero deforestation by 2015. To help achieve this target, Walmart’s ESR examined cattle ranching practices that reduced deforestation.

Another example is Danone, a dairy multinational, focused on evaluating strategic opportunities and risks to its main children’s product line. In collaboration with local NGO Ipê, it identified ways to help dairy farmers in its supply chain boost the biodiversity and soil quality in their pastures for higher-grade milk and lower operational costs for the company.

Dear reader you will notice that I haven’t used a European country nor a North American state as a comparative example. Similar to Brazil, Nigeria’s agriculture sector would be a great place to kick off an impactful sustainability movement. In terms of internal cultural and economic make up, Brazil in a lot of ways can be compared to Nigeria. The idea is not to copy Brazil and its techniques but to pay attention to strategies that have been successful and learn lessons for our own story.

Similar to examples earlier in the article, the creation of key partnerships between corporate players and government led environmental agencies especially in the local food and beverages sector would be would be a great way to make an impact especially in the development of local communities and the deployment of environmental conservation techniques. Both go hand in hand with strong economic growth.

Let’s take a look at a Nigerian example. Recent research has shown that the ratio of NPK fertilizer (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) used on our soils may not have been optimum for the different existing Nigerian soil types. Using the 15:15:15 ratio has eroded the nutrient level of the soil and led to an inability of the nutrients to self-regenerate. Poor soil types equally reduced quality of yield. This research is coming after years and years of farmers using a 15:15:15 mix. Imagine the loss!  With increased private and public sector partnerships, funding is better targeted allowing for timelier intervention strategies to be deployed.

Another area could be in the provision of funding along the agriculture value chain: from more effective input distribution to post harvest management practices and intermediate processing techniques. The opportunities are rife and waiting to be taken advantage of. They provide gains for the immediate communities and create strong business propositions as well.

Where others see chaos, I see opportunity. But taking advantage of this opportunity requires a renewed focus and honesty. Let’s stop the rhetoric and get practical. We have a government that is open to discussion and willing to listen. Taking advantage of this opportunity is staring us in the face.

What’s your next move going to be?

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1 Comment
  • Lara Okubajo

    I love this article. It is very well written and could not have come at a better time. When will we as a nation stop checking boxes and playing mere lip service?
    What IS the next move going to be?