Heritage Bank Limited has partnered with the first edition of West Africa Trade and Investment Forum (WATIF) on sub-regional integration of economies of West African countries in the areas of agriculture, education and skills, manufacturing and information communication technology (ICT).
A statement by the bank’s Divisional Head, Corporate Communications, Fela Ibidapo, quoted the Group Head, Agric and Exports,Mr. Olugbenga Awe, as saying that the bank is involved in the project because “it speaks to its commitment to the development of Nigeria and its commitment to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) as well as its commitment to agriculture.”
He explained that the bank’s partnership with the organisers of WATIF “is just a continuation of a process it started as part of its commitment to SMEs which are the bedrock of the economy, because they (SMEs) employ labour and in terms of contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) they are the future of the economy.”
Earlier in her welcome remarks, Mrs. Michele Branco-Aiyegbusi, Director of WATIF, pointed out that this year’s event with the theme “Enhancing Collaboration for Regional and Economic Impact” could not have been held at a more auspicious time just a few days after 44 African countries was signed by in Kigali, Rwanda the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA).
She expressed optimism that genuine efforts towards integration and economic collaboration would not only bring about a boost in the economic standing of Africa globally, but indeed opportunities for growth and development of the sub-region.
Branco-Aiyegbusi explained that with the focus of the maiden edition of WATIF on four sectors, the forum had been able to pool into the discourse industrialists and key drivers from these sectors who they hoped would be open minded in addressing the issues and barriers to trade and development in the sub-region.
She said that the industrialists would collectively agree on proffering solutions and strategies that would be implementable first within the sectors and hopefully by policy makers.
In her comments, Mrs. Bukunola David, director special projects, noted that “West Africa agro ecological potential is massively lower than its current output and so are its food requirements, adding that while more than one quarter of the world’s arable land lies in the African continent, it generates only 10 percent of global agricultural output.”
In the area of manufacturing, the project specialist noted that while multinational consumer companies were thriving in West Africa while 95 percent of its population and 71 percent of their income remained at the base of the pyramid.
This is even as she pointed out that in education and skills development that despite the abundant work opportunities, competent and skilled workers remained scarce in Africa with companies bridging the gap in industries by using a mix of local and international employees.
The director also noted that information and communication technology is the cybernetic generation and transformation of information through the use of man-made gadgets, adding that the generation of accurate and useful information and its proper and real dissemination have always been of great importance to humans from time immemorial.
At a roundtable discussion on agriculture at the forum, it was recommended that soil quality and seed quality for improved agricultural output, mechanised farming and cluster blocks were required to enhance value in terms of pricing of agricultural commodities.
Other recommendations of the roundtable include the use of technology, creation of market hubs, setting up of website for farmers to upload information about their products and standardisation of products across the sub-region among others.