The Managing Director, Sona Agro Allied Foods Limited, Mr. Subramanian Murugesan says embracing locally-made goods is one of the surest ways to realise our potential as a nation, and the way out of our current economic dependency and poverty in this interview with Victor ‘Tunde Oso.
Murugesan, who has spent over 20 years in Nigeria, sided with the Federal Government on its policy on food sufficiency, saying it is commendable. “In several news reports, the Federal Government has said its priorities in this direction, in partnership with state governments, will be: food security; import substitution; job creation; and economic diversification.
These are laudable, and industries like ours in the agric and food sector are encouraged by this pronouncement. Nigerian farmers and with the country blessed with arable land are capable of producing basic food commodities such as sugar, wheat flour, fish, milk, palm oil, pork, beef and poultry, but up till now domestic farmers have not been able to satisfy demand of the country’s 200 million people, hence the need for imports. With the foreign exchange restrictions, Nigerian farmers, which include agro-allied industries like us at Sona will be encouraged to increase production.”
He added that the policy could also move Nigeria towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger, achieving food security and promoting sustainable agriculture by 2030. Any sovereign country wants to be able to feed its people and provide the needed raw materials for its local industries. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that Nigeria has lost $10 billion in annual export opportunity from groundnut, palm oil, cocoa and cotton alone, due to continuous decline in the production of those commodities.
Food (crop) production increases have not kept pace with population growth, resulting in rising food imports and declining levels of national food self-sufficiency. So, this probably highlights why the Federal Government is trying to revive agriculture. Note too that oil revenue is dwindling, meaning that there is now an urgent need to stimulate local and foreign investment in the agricultural and agro-allied sectors.
Ban biscuits imports
Murugesan said it is distressing to see “our great country” still allowing food imports like biscuits from countries like India and China. There are a lot of Nigeria firms that now produce standard and quality food products, hence the need to expand the list of prohibited imports to include food items like biscuits and related products. Local industries have developed very well to European standards. Stopping importation of these common products is how we can ensure the survival of local industries and guarantee employment opportunities for millions of unemployed youths. Aside from the prospect of providing solutions to the unemployment problem, encouraging the production and consumption of local products could usher Nigeria into the path of the much-desired economic prosperity.
This is the secret behind the rising profiles of the now prosperous Asian Tigers. We understand government’s difficulties in wide-ranging food ban due to the various trade protocols in World Trade Organisation WTO, African Continental Free Trade Area AfCTA, Economic Community of West African States ECOWAS and others. We are however, hopeful, that we can arrive at a level where products like biscuits, which local industries have competence to produce, would be totally banned.
Nigerians should embrace locally-made products
He maintained that patronizing made-in-Nigeria goods should not be regarded as only a patriotic scheme; it should also be viewed as a call for a nationwide partnership to develop the kind of collective commerce pattern that would have a positive bearing on our national development. Fortunately, Nigeria has an amazing advantage in size. “Our population is a major source of strength and we should capitalize on this factor to promote Nigerian products.
A situation where Nigerians depend on imported goods for all manners of items is appalling. It has the potential to enhance the utility value of goods as products and consequent services for the specific orientation and cultural needs of the Nigerian people. There is need for a holistic overhaul of our importation policy to discourage items that can be locally manufactured. We, at Sona are in support of Federal Government efforts to achieve this. Nigerians need to embrace attitudinal, structural, and cultural change that would enable major stakeholders to modify their outlook towards made-in-Nigeria goods.
Certainly, locally goods will boost the nation’s manufacturing sector and by extension create more jobs. It is through this that indigenous firms can take advantage of bigger markets at regional, continental and global levels. Advocating and supporting made-in-Nigeria goods is a sure way to turn around our dwindling economic fortunes, especially as the world is moving away from dependence on oil revenues. It is only in doing this that we could develop and transform local industries.
There is no country that has managed to transform itself without adequate industrial growth or wholesome dependence on imported goods. Recent giant strides in the agric and food industries have sufficiently demonstrated that local industries could act as catalysts for economic growth if only the needed impetus for growth and development are put in place. So, embracing locally made goods is one of the surest ways to realise our potential as a nation- the way out of our current economic dependency and poverty.”
Diet-friendly, healthier foods, with rise of anti-sugar movement
The Sona Agro Allied Foods helmsman explained that the company was founded on a promise to deliver nutritious and healthy food to customers and that spirit is reflected in the products. “Our production procedures make it easier for all to eat healthy, affordable and tasty foods products; and at the same time, launch new product ranges that meet the growing consumer demand for nutritious products. The Sona Agro Allied Foods system works by looking at where the product fits into an overall diet, what public health issues might be, whether people are likely to eat large amounts (such as cookies), and what typical serving sizes will look like. With this guiding us, we’re able to create high-quality products with an understanding of their nutritional impact. For instance, if you look at the demographic configuration of this country, the Hausa-Fulani stock of our northern region heavily subscribe and consume our sugary products. A little down south to Nasarawa, FCT, Plateau, you find our customers enjoying our ginger-related products. Our low sugar products are largely consumed in the Western region of the country, while we enjoy general consumption of our products in the South East and South South regions of the country. Hence we fit our products to meet these nutrition patterns in the country. We also produce organic food versions, containing whole grains as number one ingredient, free from artificial colours and preservatives. We have products with ginger content, low fat or sugar content for consumers allergic to sugar (diabetes patients) and cholesterol. Around the world, consumers are increasingly looking to eat more plant-based foods. Many are becoming vegetarian, hence, our research and development is constantly working on improving our product range. We have all segments of the market as our focus.”
Hope in Nigeria
According to Murugesan, the company is currently on a daily production capacity of 96 tons in biscuits capacity. “By April 2020, we want to attain 220 tons. For our different products, we use 90 to 95 % of raw materials locally sourced, to ensure trouble-free production throughout the year. We are the first company to come out with locally manufactured chocolate using local major raw materials inputs. Our mission is quality products to Nigerian population on par with European and American snack products. All our plant and machineries is European made to maintain consistent quality and high level of hygiene in production processes.
We envisage a bright future for this company in Nigeria because the demographic nature of the country is such that demand for snack foods is going to be rising. We see the size of the middle class increasing correspondingly with their purchasing power, which is an indication that the demand for quality goods and food products would be very paramount, with people not willing to negotiate to pay for quality products.”