UNITAR, HYPREP and RSSDA/Songhai Held Stakeholders Workshop and Presentation of Certificates to Women Cooperative Farmers
It was an event of epoch making significance on 16th of December 2020 when the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Programme (HYPREP) and the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA)/Songhai jointly organised a 1-day stakeholder workshop and presentation of certificates to 20 Cooperative Associations formed by women from Ogoni land, Rivers State, Nigeria who recently benefited from phase 1 of a capacity building programme in Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship.
The core objective of the programme was to provide an opportunity for the beneficiaries to share their experience, receive advice from knowledgeable professionals from the field of agriculture and other sectors, and share knowledge about additional resources and incentives available to support the women farmers in their businesses.
In attendance at the meeting, which held at the Songhai Farm, Bunu-Tai, Rivers State, included relevant stakeholders from organizations such as: Rivers State Ministry of Commerce and Industry; Rivers State Microfinance Agency (RIMA); Bank of Agriculture; Financial Institutions; Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, Rivers State Branch; and Farmby Limited, among others.
The Rivers State Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Hon (Mrs) Ifeyinwa Nwankpa, in a goodwill message delivered on her behalf by Mrs Amieye I. Sally, the Head of Department of Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), pointed out that the choice of agriculture for the training was nobble at a time when Nigeria was striving to diversify her economy. She pointed out that the 400 women drawn from four local government areas of Ogoni land would make a positive difference in the country’s development.
In a welcome address by Executive Director of Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA), Mr Oliver Biedema, who was represented by Songhai Farm Manager, Mr Tammy Jaja, he stressed that the event was a milestone in the history of the project. He noted that the beneficiaries, who had demonstrated so much commitment throughout the training period, would benefit from knowledge that will be shared by stakeholders present at the interface. He thanked the stakeholders for their presence.
In a speech delivered on his behalf by Ms Ihuoma Njemanze, the Head/Resident Representative of UNITAR Nigeria Office, Dr Larry Boms, thanked the stakeholders and beneficiaries for their attendance.
Taking a trip down memory lane in tracing the origin of the initiative, he said the programme came about as a fall out of discussions that followed 2011 report by UNEP, recommending inclusion of livelihood programmes as part of measures to effectively clean-up communities impacted by oil exploration in the Ogoni region, and a town hall meeting in February 2017, chaired by then Minister of Environment, Mrs Amina Mohammed, presently Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, where modalities for implementation of the livelihood programme were discussed, including agreement on the training of 1200 women selected from four local government areas in the region.
Given measurable results obtained in the first phase of the training, including conclusion of the first stage of the programme in September 2020, he expressed happiness that the goal of the programme to provide effective training was being achieved He promised UNITAR’s resolve to build strong partnerships around the project, introduce innovation in agricultural science, and attract international visibility to the project as a way to attract additional funding, among other plans.
Other presentations at the workshop were very engaging and informative, providing guidelines and recommendations for the women on starting and succeeding in agribusiness. Key issues that generated during the cause of the presentations concerned areas such as: opportunities and challenges in agribusiness; values of cooperative; advantages; funding constraints and issue of risks; regulatory issues; benefits of research and information; and way forward, among others.
Senior Registrar of Cooperative at the Rivers State Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Mr Charles Nwabuike, suggested the pooling of resources together through formation of cooperatives as the best alternative way to limit the risks inherent in agribusiness. He said the Ministry would support the women, particularly in terms of offering useful advice and mentorship.
In his presentation, the Managing Director of Rivers State Microfinance Agency (RIMA), Mr Albert Garayork commended the organisers for focusing the training on women at the grassroots. He advised the beneficiaries to be aware of inherent risks in agribusiness, urging the women to show seriousness in what they have chosen to do.
Also speaking, Regional Manager, South-South, Bank of Agriculture, Mr Ade Sunny, underscored the importance of funding to agricultural development. He advised the women to separate themselves from their business, keep records, insure their farms, and keep in mind that “if they don’t do it nobody would do it for them.” He assured the women of the bank’s support, to the tune of N5,000,000 (five Million naira) loan each to the cooperatives if they show wiliness and commitment which will qualify them for this loan.
In his contribution, Chairman of Rivers State Association of Small and Medium scale Enterprises, Mr O.B Captain Briggs, advised the beneficiaries to take advantage of the benefits that the Association offers to its members in areas such as meeting regulatory conditions by government, securing documentation for accessing bank loans, mentorship, and protection against challenges.
Felix Ibe, Branch Manager, First City Monument Bank Bori, highlighted the importance of the financial sector to agricultural development, particularly in the area of securing financing for expansion. Mr Kalagbor Aquila of Farmsby Limited highlighted that the women can benefit enormously from access to information, especially social media, which is very crucial to the marketing of agricultural products. He advised the women to take research and knowledge more seriously.
The event also included presentation of awards to two of the cooperative groups for their performance so far. Speaking on necessity for the award, Mr Francis Ajua pointed out that the awards became necessary to reward, motivate and recognise Cooperatives who distinguished themselves. He said it was good to encourage those who have showed commitment in order to push them further. Thereafter, two hatcheries were presented to the two awardees including: EEDE Cooperative and Sisigodia Cooperative.
Feedback from the beneficiaries during the workshop provided a very reliable source for evaluating efficacy of the training programme so far. Speaking on their behalf, representatives of the beneficiaries thanked UNITAR, HYPREP and RSSDA/Songhai for the training opportunity. Apart from enabling them to gain practical knowledge in areas such as feed formulation, hatching, vaccination of birds, and other important modern farm practices, they added that the organizers have also remained supportive to them after the training. For instance, some of the beneficiaries revealed that participation in the training has helped them to lower mortality rate of birds in their farms, among other testimonials.
The event concluded with a vote of thanks delivered by Songhai Centre Manager, Mr Tammy Jaja. In his remarks, Mr Jaja said UNITAR and RSSDA/Songhai would not leave the beneficiaries, but remain committed to the project. He called for assistance of government, financial institutions and other stakeholders to enable the beneficiaries successfully ‘start something.’ He advised the beneficiaries to be ready to take risks and manage its impacts.