By Emeka Anuforo
Local and international private sector businesses have expressed strong interest in the $538 million Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zone program (SAPZ) launched in Nigeria on Monday 24 October. Conceived by the African Development Bank, the program is expected to stimulate agriculture transformation in Nigeria.
The program launch was followed by a special forum on Tuesday, during which participants discussed the benefits and implementation of the special agro-industrial zones. The forum brought together a wide range of attendees, including Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, several state governors, investors, representatives of logistics companies, and development partners.
The African Development Bank and partners are funding the first phase of the program, which covers seven states and the Abuja federal capital territory. The bank is providing $210 million, while the Islamic Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) are jointly contributing $310 million. The Nigerian government is investing $18.05 million in the program. Strong support comes from state governments, the private sector and other development partners. Up to 19 more states have expressed interest in joining the second phase of the program.
The director general of the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria, Segun Ajayi Kadir, praised the special agro-industrial zone concept. He said conditions must be right for the program to succeed. “States should also insulate investors from land politics and take adequate care to ensure that the environment is right,” Kadir emphasised. “The major attraction for us in special agro-industrial processing zone is the opportunity to be competitive.”
The vice president of ARISE Integrated Industrial Platforms, Suren Abeywickrema, took participants through his company’s experience running processing zones in West Africa, explaining how Nigeria’s special agro-industrial processing zones could be modeled.
ARISE IIP is operating the $1 billion forestry-based Nkok special economic zone in Gabon. That zone has more than 100 international investors who have made an additional investment of more than $1.7 billion.
The general manager of Corporate Finance at the Bank of Industry, Leonard Kanje, described the special agro-industrial processing zone as “business unusual.” He said his bank would provide financing for private sector players to locate in the zones.
Kanje said: “We will bring affordable and long-term financing. There is no way any country can survive on double-digit financing. That is why we are involved and making access to finance easier. The Bank of Industry will also support capacity building for small and medium-scale enterprises located in the zones,” He told the meeting: “We also expect to see hundreds more SAPZs springing up because it is a tested and trusted model.”
The director general of the African Development Bank in Nigeria, Lamin Barrow, said the implementation of the special agro-industrial processing zones would be done through a public-private partnership framework where the public sector provides an enabling environment while the private sector drives the program.
The managing director of Psaltry International, Oluyemisi Iranloye, stressed the need for potential investors in the zones to engage progressively with farmers and the local community. “This program must engage the people around it,” she said. “If we follow the SAPZ plan, our currency should be stronger in a few years to come.”
Iranloye also called for mechanization opportunities to enable youths to do business in the zones.
Oluyemisi, a large cassava processor based in southwest Nigeria, has built her success on an inclusive business model that places smallholder farmers at the center of operations.
The chief investment officer at the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority, Kola Owodunni, said his agency was strongly supporting the program. “We see it as catalytic for Nigeria. It aligns closely with our infrastructure fund. The SAPZ success means success for the Nigerian economy.”
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Mohammad Abubakar said the zones would unlock more private-sector investment in the country’s agriculture sector.
Abubakar said: “The SAPZs will significantly drive the modernization of the agricultural sector, reduce food imports, drive value addition in staple food crops and create new economic zones of wealth and jobs creation in rural areas.”
Similarly, the minister for industry, trade, and investment, Dr. Otunba Adebayo, described the program as a good illustration of how public and private sector-led organizations can collaborate to bring about impactful change in the agricultural sector.
The associate vice president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Katherine Meighan, highlighted the importance of the private sector as a key growth engine for rural economies, particularly under the Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zone program.
“Together, we will maximize the SAPZ benefits for small-scale producers and the private sector in line with national priorities,” Meighan said.
The senior special adviser to the African Development Bank Group president, Professor Oyebanji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka, highlighted the investment ecosystem of the special agro-industrial processing zones and opportunities for the private sector.
Eight geographical areas in Nigeria will implement the program’s first phase. They are the seven states of Cross River, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, Ogun, and Oyo, and the Abuja Federal Capital Territory. Meanwhile, nineteen more state governments have indicated an interest in also establishing special agro-industrial processing zones under the program’s next phase.