Following a media tour of the FGN/NDDC/IFAD Assisted Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprises-Niger Delta (LIFE-ND) project sites in Edo, Delta and Bayelsa states, AgroNigeria speaks with the National Project Coordinator, Dr. Abiodun Sanni, who further elucidates critical details about the project, challenges being encountered and many more. Samuel Hassan Reports.
Can you tell us about the origin of the FGN/NDDC/IFAD Assisted LIFE-ND project?
The LIFE-ND project is an initiative of the Federal Government of Nigeria in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Niger Delta Development Commission, as well as the state governments of the Niger Delta region. The project was initiated to ensure sustainable agricultural development, improved income as well as job creation within the Niger Delta Region among youths and women.
Can you tell us if this project since its inception has achieved the desired results?
Yes, the project has contributed significantly to the economic growth and wealth of the Niger Delta region. Since inception, the project has been able to inject over $20 million into the rural economy. That is substantially close to 16 billion Naira.
And largely as a project, we were able to create over 12,000 jobs and ensure that we have over 15,960 enterprises running across the six participating states of the region. And as a project, we were able to also ensure that over 80% of our beneficiaries have access to improved nutritional diets.
We have also met a substantial part of the key performance indicators of the project, especially in the area of ensuring that people have access to climate friendly infrastructure; over 60% of our beneficiaries have access to climate friendly infrastructures.
In the same vein, we have been able to ensure that our farmers have access to improved technological practices; over 80% of them have adopted best agricultural practices in terms of farming techniques within several communities we are intervening in. So largely, the project has impacted on the lives of youths and women of the Niger Delta region.
There is a target this project is aiming at, this is the fourth year since its implementation, what are the strategies you are putting in place to ensure the realization of the full objectives of LIFE-ND?
As you are aware, LIFE-ND is a pilot project and for now the target for the six participating states is the creation of 25,500 enterprises, we are targeting 32,500 beneficiaries from the 9 participating states. But for now, as a project, we’ve hit over the 60% mark as we are approaching its 5th year of implementation. But we are quite hopeful that within the next year, which is a strategic year, the project will be able to achieve its 100% mark. This is because we have put in place strategies to overcome the initial challenges we had at the onset of the project.
The issue of COVID -19 led to us wasting over a year and a half of the project life span. However we were able to emplace substantial strategies that will ensure that this deficit gap is covered in 2024. We are currently moving towards the 70% target in achieving our beneficiary mark. But in terms of meeting the key performance indicators, we are already hitting the 100% mark in that area.
How many beneficiaries have been empowered out of 32,500 projection?
We are working on 25 ,500 for six states, 32,000 is meant for the nine Niger-Delta states.
Three states are not participating because the Niger Delta Development Commission has not been able to meet its own financial commitments. So out of 25,500, we have 15 ,960 beneficiaries now and over 12 ,000 jobs have been created. In 2024, the deficit of 9,000 plus will be covered because the strategy to achieve this has already been laid in the preceding years.
The NDDC has not yet paid its counterpart fund, what engagement are you having with them to ensure payment?
We are at a high level of advocacy both at the Federal Government level and critical stakeholders level, also at the state level. The Federal of Nigeria through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, which is the lead implementing agency, has approached the management of the Niger Delta Commission through the Niger Delta affairs ministry to ensure that NDDC meets its counterpart fund contribution.
And at the project level and the IFAD level also, we have been intervening with the management and board of NDDC to ensure that this commitment is met within the shortest possible time. And other stakeholders within the region are also making moves to ensure that NDDC lives up to its responsibility in paying the $30 million commitment.
How much have you spent so far on the project?
We are moving towards 80% disbursement effectiveness of the project which is quite commendable. Like I said, it is a $60 million loan and we are close to almost $36 million in expenditures. Bearing in mind other IFAD contributions that were also put in place by the various participating stakeholders in the project.
At the beginning of this conversation, you mentioned that the project has been able to contribute about $20 million to rural economy, how did you arrive at the figure?
Yes, substantially, as a project, we have a core strategy to ensure that the youths are trained on the best agricultural practices and we are working entirely on seven commodities and intervening in all whole value chains. We are able to measure this by the value of how much we have injected into working capital frameworks that have been put in place. And we are also putting in place a strategy to measure the outputs that we have gotten on the field in terms of productivity of our farmers and the income that has been generated over time.
So by measuring this across the six states and by aggregating the various value chains we are already supporting our farmers, we were able to calculate those figures substantially.
You have captured people with disabilities among beneficiaries in states we have visited, what percentage of the beneficiaries are allocated to people with special needs?
As a project, there is a deliberate effort during the process of onboarding our beneficiaries to ensure that people living with disabilities are not left out. Initially, at the onset, we made a provision of 5% of the entire target as we bring on board beneficiaries of the project. Now, we have made efforts to increase it to 10%. So, largely, as a project, we are PWD compliant and it is a deliberate effort of ours and a product of the support we have gotten from the association of people living with disabilities.
In one of the communities in Delta state, beneficiaries complained about some of their stipends not being paid. What are you doing to ensure they are paid?
First off, we ensure that we get adequate feedback from the grassroots, our beneficiaries. We solve these problems as they emerge. We go down to identify why those problems exist. Incidentally, some of these problems are a result of certain actions or inactions of our beneficiaries. These are funds that need to be accounted for and there are processes and systems in place before these funds are released.
For example, opening of accounts in reputable financial institutions where we provide and pay in these funds, once there are problems with these accounts, there will be delays in sending funds to these beneficiaries. We have ensured that we provide financial inclusion support to these beneficiaries. The challenges they are having in opening accounts, we are robustly ensuring that these are solved, so that these funds will go into their accounts and not bounce back. This bounce back is usually due to the status of the accounts opened and provided by beneficiaries. However we are solving this by upgrading these accounts.