James Elekwachi is Economic Development Programme Manager at the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta, PIND. He tells Vanguard’s Egufe Yafugborhi, in this interview, that the development agency’s sustained commitment to lifting many from poverty into livelihood engagements, through improved farming skills and information, would have passed by if the goodwill organisation had caved in to profound tendencies for violence and disruptions it met on ground six years ago.
Development agencies professing assistance to the poor are everywhere. What separates PIND from the rest?
We try not to rely on conventional development approach. Focused on sustainable development, we always ask ourselves, how can any effort at bringing about development carry on over a foreseeable period of time? We first try to uncover what the issues are.
What are the causes of the problem or constraints faced by market actors in a particular value chain or sector, region or state? We identify key stakeholders and work with them to bring about deliberate changes. We therefore adopt a more facilitative approach, so they take full ownership of the changes and carry on even when PIND is no longer there. We ensure sustainability beyond PIND’s intervention.
Why the focus on Niger Delta?
Our mandate actually focuses on the Niger Delta, but the impact measurably goes beyond because you can’t limit development. We target groups – farmers, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), market actors – but to whom do they sell the stuff they produce?
They sell to the whole country. If a farmer in the region produces cassava, he sells to people in Lagos, Abuja, everywhere. He produces palm oil; it goes as far as to the North. They produce cocoa; it goes out of the country. Yes, by definition, we are in the Niger Delta, but our intervention extends beyond.
What is the proof to convince external stakeholders how much value is being added to improving lives for as many years in the region?
Within six years, we’ve recorded tangible results. In aquaculture, when we came in, average profit for a farmer was just 5%. With the introduction of the demo pond, they leaped profit from 5% to 22%. This didn’t happen by mere increase in prices, but as a result of sharp drop in production cost. Farmers learnt new technology, skills of producing fish more efficiently. In cassava sector, average yield was not more than eight tons per hectare when we came.
Today, average has risen to 22 tons per hectare. This came about with the introduction of four different technologies, access to fertilisation, access to crop rotative products, access to land preparation and introduction of hybrid stem varieties, the combination of all leading to increases in production and income. In the palm oil sector, farmers were losing a lot of money when we came.
Average processing extraction rate was about 10%. That meant the production of one ton of palm nut would yield output of about 80liters. With the introduction of improved processing facilities, average extraction rate increased from 10% to 14%, translating to 36% increase on income. These progresses, not there before, are stimulating real growth in these sectors, increasing jobs and income for all aspects in the value chain.
Will you continue amid violence against investors, interventionist players?
When we came into the region, we noticed some of these challenges. Remember it was an area that came out of about ten years of civil strife. There are a lot of entitlement mentality because of the influence of oil companies and government. We came along with a commitment to change this mentality and mindset among the people. They saw from our intervention that it wasn’t really about what I can grab today, exhaust it in no time and return to create disruption the next day. It was more about earning a living in a sustainable manner.
When we introduce aquaculture intervention in Warri, the initial mindset was that of entitlement, but we were consistent in our mission. The focus was delivering the right information, training and advice to improve fish farmers. When many saw that a number of people were making money, they came to terms with the PIND objective as being specific about increasing income and jobs for people and they started keying in. When we got in, the UFFA, a fish farmers’ cluster in Delta State, had a population of about 800. Within two years, it increased to 1, 500, people coming in from all areas in Warri, seeing that the most important thing is learn how to fish and make your own income in legitimately productive manner.
Given all the capacity-building, resource support, epileptic power supply continues to kill start ups. Has PIND found a solution?
Electricity, as challenge, is generic among African and other developing economies globally. We recognise this and hope government is working to improve that. In PIND, working with those in the agro sector, we believe that if they have the right practices, they can actually drop their cost of production and double incomes.
So, despite other macro-economic situations, including power around the country, we are seeing significant changes. While we advocate to the government to improve power, under our appropriate technology enabled development, we have interventions around renewable energy alternatives to ameliorate the power situation. That’s happening in the riverine communities.
Level of partnership, support from government, other stakeholders?
When you bring an intervention that works, all you can get is just support. At the donor level, we are partnering with USAID, DFID. As a result of our efforts, USAID’s Market II Project came back to the Niger Delta while DFID introduced the MADE Project.
Top input companies, fabricators, service providers in this country are working with PIND because they see value in what we are doing. Let’s face it, what is really lacking in most of the sectors is information, access to market. So we provide that linkage between input companies and farmers, between farmers and off-takers, then between off-takers and end market. Now many market actors are engaging meaningfully and increasing profit without PIND getting fully involved.
What’s so special about this new song PIND calls service provider model?
We always ask, what is the entry strategy before any intervention? So our entry strategy also becomes our exit strategy. We say if we are going to exit intervention in aquaculture, palm oil, cassava or cocoa sector, who is going to carry on implementing the introduced strategies in a sustainable manner? That gave birth to the service provider model.
Six years ago, there was total collapse of service provision in terms of who the farmer goes to if he needs advice, information or training. Absolutely no one. We then started identifying consultants, individuals who can fill the gaps. We provided training to upgrade their skills and capacity of their businesses. Still, we are furthering that capacity building to next level. With strong organisations with clear vision, mission, they are better placed to salvage the agricultural space in the Niger Delta. This model is our key sustainability and exit strategy.
Government had service providers in extension workers. Were you not aware?
We noticed farmers were not getting sufficient support from the extension workers. To provide these services in sustainable manner, the provider needs enabling incentives to do it. That means someone has to pay for the service.
If the donor or government keeps paying, once the funds run out, the service provision also ends. That’s why we started developing a crop of service providers to support the market in gainful manner. The service user only pays if he gets value in return. So the provider is challenged to increase his service quality. It now becomes a keen competition to be the best to get more market and increase value for the farmer.
Exiting conquered territories, breaking new grounds
Out next move is to go into cocoa sector. We also have the Niger Delta youth employment pathway, bringing in the construction sector and ICT to create opportunities. We don’t wait to finish a sector completely. As existing interventions are maturing, we are going into new areas. It’s all about systemic change.