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National Wheat Farmers Field Day: CFM, Others Restate Commitment To Boost Local Wheat Production

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Olam, an agribusiness and food conglomerate, has taken a bold step to raise the level of agricultural productivity in Nigeria. At the National Wheat Farmers Field Day held in Kano recently, the agribusiness conglomerate revealed that over 30,000 farmers have been trained and equipped through a joint effort of one of its strategic business units – Crown Flour Mill (CFM), Flour Miller’s Association of Nigeria (FMAN) and the Federal Government; in a bid to deepen the national agricultural extension scheme, especially in the wheat segment.
Mr. Ashish Pande, Managing Director, Crown Flour Mill Limited, shared that as a member of FMAN, Crown Flour Mill is committed to improving wheat production, through adequate financing and research in the country.
He added that the agribusiness conglomerate’s wheat development effort has led to the execution of several well-coordinated capacity building initiatives which include bringing local wheat farmers up to speed with innovative wheat farming practices.
Pande explained, “We wish to get new technologies in Nigeria to further build on the wheat initiative. We look forward to partnering with organizations across the wheat value chain to improve farmers’ yields through high-quality seeds, expanded extension services and improved access to irrigation.”
Alhaji Sabo Nanono, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, who also attended the event, explained that the Federal Government prioritizes the agricultural extension programme considering its implication on national agricultural productivity ad food security.
Nanono said the federal government is targeting 70,000 workers, adding that 30,000 of them had completed the training that is designed to expose them to modern farming techniques, fertilizer and chemical application.
According to him, the agricultural development effort would encourage the development of small-scale wheat processing mills to make wheat flour and other wheat products available in the market. He explained that encouraging wheat production and processing would go a long way to boosting food security and economic growth.
Also speaking at the event, Alhaji Salihu Muhammad, Chairman, Wheat Farmers Association of Nigeria (WFAN), stated that the developmental drive of the association has introduced the Durum wheat variety, one of the most cultivated varieties of the crop, and engaged the services of experienced seed scientists to accelerate wheat production in the country.
He further called for the inclusion of wheat farmers in the Federal Government’s Anchor Borrower Programme (APB) because the exclusion of their 200,000 registered members has negatively affected wheat production in the country.
In his remark, Nasiru Gawuna, the Kano State Deputy Governor, said the state government had concluded plans to establish additional water bodies and upgrade existing dams to encourage wheat cultivation and other irrigation activities.  Gawuna said the government had embarked on the rehabilitation and desalting of Watari dam and upgrade of irrigation schemes in Bagwai LGA.
While reiterating the government’s commitment to supporting farmers, Gawuna urged the farmers to utilize the inputs distributed to them to improve their productivity.
Precisely, the agricultural extension programmes are transforming the national agriculture landscape and driving national food security. The coordinated measures taken by Crown Flour Mill, FMAN, WFAN, the Federal Government and Kano State Government are equipping farmers with modern farming techniques, crop processing and entrepreneurial skills, and would add value to agricultural produce.
Apart from contributing immensely to training the 30,000 farmers, CFM and other members of FMAN have provided support to 800 farmers in Kano, Kebbi and Jigawa States. The farmers were provided with improved seeds variety, fertilizers, chemicals and 50 threshers under a soft loan scheme designed to enhance farmer access to inputs and extension services.
It would be recalled that the miller’s association also recently collaborated with Oxfam and the Agricultural Research Institutes to establish wheat farming service centers in 15 LGAs in the Northern wheat-growing states.
Nigeria is in dire need of aggressive national action at this present time to ensure her growing population is well nourished as the world food system continues to contract due to the impact of the ongoing pandemic.
Agnes Kalibata, the special envoy to the UN secretary-general put the global food crisis in sharp perspective at the food systems summit 2021 when she said, “Food systems have contracted, because of Covid-19. Food has become more expensive and, in some places, out of reach for people. Food is looking more challenging this year than last year.”
While headline inflation in Nigeria reached 15% recently, rice, a popular grain in Nigerian dining, became inaccessible and expensive. To overcome the price pressure and scarcity of the grain food on the retail shelves, retailers pivoted to stocking and selling semolina and other wheat-based food products like pasta
Wheat is a popular ingredient in Nigerian households, and it is critical to feeding the over 200 million strong national population.
Wheat is milled into flour which is then used to make staple foods such as Semolina, noodles, bread and biscuits. These staple foods are eaten by a larger portion of the population.
However, with 420,000 tons of wheat produced in Nigeria in 2020, according to data by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the country is still far from reducing the huge gap between its wheat production and national consumption demand levels of about 5 million metric tons annually. Therefore, the present coordinated actions and growing achievements of CFM and other millers within FMAN, the Federal Government, and the state governments are steps in the right direction.
The increasing population growth and urbanization of Nigeria demand an aggressive wheat value chain extension programme. Presently growing at 3.2% a year, the country population is projected to reach the 400 million mark by 2050 according to the US Census Bureau. The wheat value chain must be expanded to cater to this growing population since wheat-based foods have become a convenient recourse for most households.
KPMG, a global consulting firm, captured the overriding importance of expanding the wheat value chain succinctly. It wrote in one of its recent research publications that “With the increasing demand for wheat products (flour and flour-based foods), wheat has arguably become one of the most important agricultural commodities in need of accelerated local production”.
The efforts of all stakeholders including CFM, the miller’s association, the WFAN, and the state and Federal Government, all taking proactive action towards boosting national food security is most definitely applaudable.

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Jumia partners Samsung,Xiaomi, Intel, Others To Offer Huge Discounts On Tech Gadgets For 2021 Tech Week

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The Jumia Tech Week, kicked off today March 1st through 7th, 2021. During the week long sales, Jumia will be providing customers the opportunity to get best deals of up to 70% off on latest tech items such as TV sets, cameras, mobile phones, computers, video games and others.

Partnering with global gadget and electronic manufacturers such as Samsung, HP, Intel, Umidigi, and Xiaomi, Jumia is giving customers over 6 million choice products to shop from while staying safe.

Speaking on the campaign, Jumia Nigeria CEO, Massimiliano Spalazzi said the Jumia Tech Week caters to the needs of remote workers, entertainment and sport lovers as it gives them the opportunity to buy tech-related items at the most affordable prices.

“The campaign caters to everyone with gadget needs: those working from home who need laptops, storage devices; gamers who need the latest video game; gadget lovers in need of latest phones; entertainment and sport lovers in need of speakers, earphones and television sets can shop for them during the Tech Week. All you need is download the JumiaApp, register and start shopping,” he said.

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The Campaign will also feature March 1st and 5th as explosion days during which customers can get products at giveaway prices. Customers will also stand a chance to win prizes during daily Flash sales, Treasure Hunt, spin & win sessions.

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Verdant Zeal Wins 1st AAAN President Cup FIFA Tournament

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The Association of Advertising Agencies Nigeria (AAAN) just concluded its first
President’s Cup Football FIFA Tournament. The tournament which started on
Tuesday, February 16th ended on Friday, February 26th held at the AAAN
Secretariat and was streamed live on the AAAN social media platforms.

According to the Chairman of the Events Planning Committee, Mr. Doyin
Adewumi, fifteen (15) agencies participated in the competition for the grand
prize of two hundred thousand naira (N200,000), while the first and second
runners-up get N100,000 and N50,000 respectively.

After a gruelling match, the victory went to VD Team from Verdant Zeal who
beat Tequila Limited; 5 – 2, becoming the first agency to win the first ever
AAAN President’s Cup Football FIFA Tournament.

The President of the Association, Mr. Steve Babaeko during the presentation
of the cup noted that the purpose of the tournament was to bring young
practitioners together through a healthy competition as well as foster a
healthy rivalry and relationship amongst them.

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Nigeria’s Digital Switchover: Fresh Missteps Loom

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Dominic Omuedi

Heartwarming, it was for me, to read reports of the press conference addressed on Tuesday by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, on the country’s Digital Switchover (DSO) process, which seemed to have been interred under the rubble of poor conception, mismanagement and corruption. The cheer brought by the government’s announced intention to reboot the process, positive as appears, has shown nothing beyond the fact that the DSO process is not completely forgotten. No more. No less.

At the press conference, Mohammed unveiled a 13-member Ministerial Task Force to take charge of the DSO process which, for years, has proceeded in staccato fashion and left the country trailing many others, including in Africa.

Members of the task force, to be chaired by Mohammed, include Armstrong Idachaba, Joe Mutah of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (Secretary), Dr Armstrong Idachaba, acting Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC); Olusegun Yakubu of Pinnacle Communications and Toyin Zubair, promoter of the defunct HiTV and now of Inview.

At the press conference, Mohammed announced that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved outstanding payments to key DSO stakeholders, a development he said will remove all the hindrances to the entire process in the past three years. The funding source for the DSO, broadcast industry experts reckon, is from the N34billion paid by MTN for broadcast frequency.

“With the payment approval by FEC, and with 31 states to cover, we have our work cut out for us. We have no more excuses for not rapidly rolling out the DSO across the country, hence my decision to set up a 13-member Ministerial Task Force, which I will personally chair, to take charge of the rollout,” the minister said excitedly.

He added that the government took a decision last year, on account of the financial difficulties induced by Covid-19, that the DSO process will be private sector-driven, effectively cancelling the plan to provide subsidies for Set-Top-Boxes (STBs) or signal carriage.

What followed, typical of pronouncements on the DSO, was a raft of big-sounding and dreamy projections. The DSO, said the minister, will deliver over one million jobs in the next three years, with 50,000 of such coming via local production of 24 million STBs and Smart TVs.

“Not even 20 Set-Top-Box manufacturers can comfortably produce the initial requirements to feed the market.  Furthermore, our position in West Africa, coupled with our size, makes us the definite source of these products for the   whole sub-region,” he said.

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Television production, he said, will create 200,000 jobs, as digitization will lead to “180 state channels, 30 regional channels and at least 10 national channels”. Digitization, he added, will boost local content propagation and draw many more Nigerians into the business. This, he said will create 400,000 jobs in film production and nudge Nollywood towards subscription Video-On-Demand on STBs and online, thereby providing cheaper distribution means, helping producers to make more money.

The envisaged boom in production, added the minister, will create an additional 200,000 jobs via increase in foreign demand for fully indigenous content and fetch the country in excess of $100 million.

“I have no doubt in my mind that a successful DSO is not just a job spinner, creating over one million jobs in three years, but also a money spinner,” said the minister.

Anyone familiar with the country’s DSO journey will not just doubt the minister’s projections, but dismiss them as drunkenly optimistic, especially given how squalidly it has been managed.

Undoubtedly, poor funding has inhibited the process. But more than that, squalid leadership and ill-conceived strategy are greater inhibitors. For instance, despite the pilot project, with the last roll-out three years ago in Osogbo, Osun State, there is no sustainable Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) coverage even in Plateau, Enugu, Osun, Kwara, and Kaduna states as well as the Federal Capital Territory, which were pilot states. Free Tv signals limited to state capitals.

This implies inhabitants outside state capitals are excluded and shows that the broadcast signal carriers selected for the DSO have inadequate technical and financial capacity for effective DTT coverage, the first step in the DSO.

The minister’s near-orgasmic projections on STBs, which convert analogue signals to digital, ignore the fact that the country, for strange reasons, chose a process that builds conditional access (CA) on top of the STBs instead of a standard affordable STB process. This means that the STBs process adopted for Nigeria’s for DSO will be out of the financial reach of most Nigerians. The standard STBs for DSO are supposed to receive free-to-air signal and affordable.  Those with conditional access built onto them are similar to pay television STBs and are much pricier. Inview, the company providing the TV system/ conditional access, has already been paid N1billion for running the TV system only in Abuja and Jos.

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The company and others involved in the process are understood to have filed invoices for additional sums.

The cancellation of subsidy for STBs, forced on the government by the inclement economic climate, is certain to ensure that the prices of the boxes will stretch users to breaking point. Prior to the devaluation of the naira, for instance, the recommended price STB ranged between N20,000 and N30,000. The boxes used in the roll-out at pilot locations were all imported, with the Federal Government giving the alleged STB manufacturers guarantees to fund the importation to the tune of N5billion.

The inordinately ambitious projection that Nigeria will, within three years, be heaving with locally manufactured STBs is something akin to a boxer’s boast-full of sound and fury.

According to experts, there are only three companies claiming to have STB assembly lines in the country and not a single one is manufacturing. How the few companies, even operating at full capacity, can assemble 24 million STBs over five years has something that has eluded experts, who reckon that it will take a minimum of five years to meet the demand of 24million users- if all the companies function at full capacity. Importantly, not one of those claiming to have assembly/manufacturing capacities are in operation, meaning that they are engaged in no economic activities and employ nobody, thereby bilking the country through government contracts.

But they are not alone and are actually encouraged by the disposition of government officials, who view funding for the DSO process as “serve yourself,” the local parlance for buffet.

In a 21 March 2019 report published by The Guardian, experts interviewed identified corruption as the main obstacle to the country’s transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. A Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) is on suspension from office and facing prosecution by the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) over allegedly fraudulent release of N2.5billion to a private company. The matter, which is beforethe Federal High Court, Abuja, relates to the 2016 release of N10 billion to the Ministry of Information and Culture for the DSO.

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The ICPC is accusing the suspended D-G of using his position to confer a corrupt advantage on his associates in two private companies.

The suspended D-G is alleged to have asked the Information Minister to approve payment of N2.5 billion to Pinnacle Communications Limited, a private signal distribution operator, as “seed grant” for the DSO for which it was ineligible. Mohammed, who was listed as a witness in the trial, claimed he approved the payment based on expert advice given by the suspended D-G.  The DSO guidelines, provided by a Federal Government Whitepaper, directed that the process be exclusively managed by companies affiliated to the Federal Government. Based on the guidelines, two companies were nominated for the purpose. One of these was ITS, an affiliate to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), which has no infrastructure of its own and is relying on the one owned by another private operator. It got also go N1.7billion as seed grant.

The assumption that our wonky DSO system will boost local content production because it will serve as distribution platform is also one without basis, as International Telecommunications Union (ITU) DSO policy is simply transiting free-to-air analogue signals to digital signal. Thus, Nigeria’s system, with its in-built conditional access system, will rob Nigerians of the constitutionally-guaranteed right to receive information in view of the fact that most free-to-air broadcaster are government-owned. In effect, 90 million Nigerians already living in poverty will be required to buy STBs, movies online and unlimited internet service to access such.

The claim that Nollywood output will benefit from better distribution is also a ruse. Nigerians are already using smart devices through which they access Nigerian creative content online.

Many have also blamed ministerial interference for the corrugated DSO process, arguing that worldwide, the DSO process is driven by the regulator and the industry.

What I have observed since 2015 is a lot of ministerial interference which, in addition to other factors, will leave the country panting to achieve DTT coverage by the time the rest of the world would have moved on a more modern platform, the OTT

Omuedi, a retired broadcast engineer, writes from Ughelli.

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