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| By Anayo Ezugwu | Dec. 10, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT
SOUTH East governors have resolved to harness the agricultural and industrial potentials of the region. They made the resolution at the 2012 South East Economic Summit held in Enugu. The governors said the agricultural framework in the region would be based on a value-chain approach that focuses on specific crops like cassava, yams and other seeds from planting, harvesting to processing. They promised to increase their agricultural budgets in the 2013 budget to meet the standard needed by the summit.
Peter Obi, Anambra State governor and chairman South East governor’s forum, who spoke on behalf of the forum, said even though the region is hampered by gully erosion, he still believed that its future lies in utilising the agricultural potentials embedded in the region. “I strongly believe that if we exploit our abundant arable land and water resources, our South East region could become the next Malaysia, in terms of agricultural output. Our region is blessed with rich soil and also very hardworking citizens. However, our agricultural practices are still very traditional. Many farmers in our region do not have access to improved agricultural inputs such as plant varieties, fish fingerlings; or insecticides which are required to reduce post-harvest losses,” he said.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance, who delivered the keynote address titled “Managing public finance for agricultural and industrial growth,” warned the governors against further excessive borrowing and instead, reinvest in agriculture to ensure the economic growth of the region and the country at large.
Okonjo-Iweala said the region has a comparative advantage for the production of some food crops but was being hampered by limited land and tremendous gully erosion. She explained that the World Bank had provided a credit of $450 million for the South East to decisively deal with gully erosion in order to promote agriculture.[caption id="attachment_1287" align="alignright" width="300"] Omghalu and Obi[/caption]
The minister stressed that the mounting domestic debts of the region was as dangerous as the external one and these were affecting investments in agriculture, adding that strategies were being put in place to reduce the debts. “I want to give advice to our governors here. Those who are taking domestic debt need to watch it because it is as dangerous as or even more so than the external debt. When you have domestic debt, you must service it because it is your institutions, your pension funds, your banks who owe this debt and you must have to pay it otherwise it leads to other consequences within the economy. I am happy to say that we have put in place a very good strategy to manage the national domestic debt which is to decelerate the rate at which we borrow,” she said.On his part, Chukwuma Soludo, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, explained that the region would not progress without developing a sound vision. According to him, developing a vision would help to drive the economy of the zone to greater heights. He, however, called on the governors to create an enabling environment for investors to thrive in the region. “What should be our major concern now is where the South East will be in the next 50 years. We must plan on how to make the South East a haven where investors can come and invest and our sons and daughters abroad would equally return to invest for the development of the region,” he said.
Soludo also advised the governors to tackle insecurity in the region to enable investors to come in and help develop it. “The issue of insecurity must be addressed urgently to allow investors to come in and invest in the region. It is my hope that the governors will add more efforts to control this insecurity in the region.”
Kingsley Moghalu, deputy governor of the Central bank of Nigeria, said entrepreneurs and governments of the zone had no interest in setting up financial institutions in the region. He advised the governors and other private entrepreneurs in the region to take advantage of the new banking model to develop the region. “We have a new banking model whereby we have commercial banks and merchant banks. Then we have a specialised bank where you can now have all kinds of lending to small and medium enterprises,” he said.
He urged the South East governors and entrepreneurs to take advantage of this new banking model. “Under the commercial banking model, you can have a national bank, you can have international bank and you can have a regional licence. So, regional banks are back and I think it is important to establish regional banks in the South East, especially with the power sector reform. As the power sector reforms get to a crescendo, the whole question of the environment for business for small scale industries will become very healthy again and the question is where is the finance? So, regional banking is a path to go.”
He noted that the zone was also lagging behind in the establishment of micro finance banks. According to him, out of the 900 microfinance banks in the country, only 164 are in the South East and in the category of unit micro finance bank.
The summit was attended by Ike Ekweremadu, deputy senate president, Anyim Pius Anyim, secretary to the government of the federation, Emeka Ihedioha, deputy speaker, House of Representatives, and other prominent people from the region. Also in attendance were top government officials from Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states as well as industrialists from organised private sectors.
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