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Nexus Between Chemical Engineering and Economic Development

-By Benjamin Ike

In recognition of the pivotal role of chemical engineering as the engine of growth of the economy, the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers organized a National Conference with the theme, “Enhancement of Agricultural Value Chain for Economic Development: The Role of Chemical Engineering”.

The theme was carefully chosen in line with the Federal Government’s diversification efforts as enshrined in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), just as the Conference was aimed at bringing together participants from policymakers, industrialists, the academia, research institutes, the private as well as public sector to brainstorm and proffer solutions to challenges in the agricultural down-stream sector so as to galvanize efforts to ensure the revamping of the nation’s economy through the multiplier effect of value – addition to agricultural produce.

Tagged KADA 2019, the 4-day event, which comprised a variety of activities included the opening ceremony, plenary and Technical Sessions, Panel Discussions, Poster Presentations, Exhibitions, Meetings of Sectorial groups and the Annual General Meeting (AGM).

In his welcome address, National President of the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers (NSCHE), Engr. Onochie Anyaoku said in consonance with the Federal Government’s economic diversification agenda coupled with the dire need to provide gainful employment to her teeming youths through industrialization, the theme of the 49th edition of their conference is “Enhancement of Agricultural Value Chain for Economic Development: The Role of Chemical Engineering”.

According to him, “this topic is considered very important and apt considering the nation’s current economic reality, the need to create wealth, jobs and investment opportunities”.

Going down memory lane, Engr. Onochie Anyaoku said Nigeria is one of the countries across the world that are endowed with enormous agricultural potentials and the number of crops grown is a clear proof of how arable the country’s land is.

Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu

According to the history of agriculture in Nigeria, he noted, “in 1990 about 81 million of Nigeria’s total of 91 million hectares were declared suitable for growing crops. Besides optimum temperature, adequate rainfall and fertile soil are part of factors which make agriculture a fruitful venture to engage in, in the country.

“Before the advent of Colonialism,” the President of National Society of Chemical Engineers went on, “our ancestors were sustained primarily by farming as the major occupation with the use of crude implements compared to what is obtainable today. However, they produced enough food crops to feed themselves like most other Africans and also produced cash crops which were used for trade by barter system across the Trans–Saharan trade (routes) to the end of the Atlantic trade.” Maintaining that in spite of their limitations they responded accordingly to the demands of their time.

Moreover, he went on, “The agriculture sector in the 1960’s was contributing 85% of foreign exchange earnings, 90% employment generation, and about 80% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). “However, he lamented, the agricultural sector witnessed a lot of neglect by successive governments since the discovery of oil in commercial quantity, hence agriculture no longer serves as the leading foreign exchange earner owing to the phenomenal growth in the petroleum sector of the economy.

Observing that the principal constraint to the growth of the agricultural sector is the fact that the structure and method of production remained virtually the same for more than four decades after independence, Engr. Onochie Anyaoku identified other problems to include lack of adequate and safe storage facilities, inadequate technical know-how and inadequate infrastructural facilities, among others.

Kaduna State Governor Mallam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai could not agree more. Said the governor in a paper delivered at the occasion, entitled “Investment Opportunities and Reforms in Kaduna State”, “Agricultural investments in the state have barely been tapped and great opportunities still exist. Today, Kaduna State is the number one producer of five crops – Maize, Sorghum, Soya beans, Ginger and Tomato. We also farm the largest land mass and number two producers of rice. Most of the land mass in Kaduna is very arable and yearning to be farmed on.”

Expatiating, the governor said, “the demand for tomato and it’s byproducts far outweighs its supply. The production of tomatoes in Nigeria in 2010 was about 1.8 million metric tonnes, which accounts for about 68.4% of West Africa, 10.8% of Africa’s total output and 1.28% of world output. Kaduna State has 96 dry season clusters of tomato production and 41 wet season cluster farms. The State has the potential of 1,095,513 tonnes of output in the dry season and 666,561 tonnes in the wet season (while) Kaduna markets currently serve approximately two million customers daily with additional 34 million customers from neighbouring Nigerian States and countries.”

Insisting that Kaduna has a good climatic condition to plant ginger in large quantity and the potential to expand production into a self-sufficient industry, the governor said Nigeria is the fourth largest exporter of ginger in the world with Kaduna as the largest ginger – producing state in Nigeria, noting that although the land and local skilled farmers are readily available; the market both locally and internationally are present, there are still no state–of–the–art processing ginger plant and only a few industries producing the by–product of ginger; among others.

As the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu pointed out, this event could not have come at a better time than this, when Mr. President and Commander-In-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces is focused on taking 100 million Nigerians out of poverty and one of the scheduled tools for such achievement is agriculture.

According to the Minister who spoke in the lead paper titled, “Development of Competitive Technology for Monetizing Farm – gate produce”, Nigerian farmers have benefitted immensely from several programmes of the current government, which are aimed at increasing farmer productivity and income, maintaining that a recent report on Nigeria’s agriculture by PricewaterCoopers (PwC) States that agriculture accounts for about 24.4% of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and over 90% employment.

Lamenting, however, that about 90% of our agricultural output is accounted for by small–scale farmers that sell at farm-gate and earn very little, Dr. Onu observed that this leaves the transformation efforts of the government with the need for increased innovation and investment to improve the agro produce value chain and ensure enough earnings for the small–scale farmer, some of which he said would be in technologies to improve harvest quality, storage techniques, processing technologies and re-use of agro resources as further inputs in energy ad feedstock systems.