As simple and common as it is, pepper is a major income earner for many countries.
How Nigerians earn foreign  currencies selling Nsukka pepper

Coals may have dried up in the once bustling mines in Enugu. Unlike the coal-mining era, the current activities do not require exploring the claustrophobic, cavernous tunnels dug deep into the bowels of the earth to unravel; they are taking place right on earth’s surface. The activities revolve around the agricultural value addition.

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Packaged Nsukka pepper

It took the visit of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to the state during the recently held Medium Small and Medium Enterprises Clinic (MSME Clinics) to bring to the open a partnership between the Enugu State government and the Federal Government to unravel the spread of opportunities and wealth creation in the agricultural sector of the state.

Anayo Agu, Special Adviser to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi on Small and Medium Enterprise and Investment Promotion, described the agricultural efforts in the state as “the next oil boom.” However, what he may not have been able to capture was that, unlike the oil economy that is not evenly spread and has the bulk of its earnings going abroad through the earnings of International Oil Corporations (IOCs), the agricultural activities are more evenly spread and ensure regular income for households which are either smallholders or medium scale farmers.

The exhibition of products from regular farm commodities to processed and packaged food items were pointers to a productive partnership between the state and the federal government on the one hand, and between the state and its community of agric entrepreneurs on the other. For instance, it was through the partnership between the state and the Federal Government that an intervention programme was initiated to explore the opportunities available in a unique brand of pepper, otherwise known as Ose Nsukka or Nsukka Pepper. Through this, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) created an Anchor Borrowers programme that enabled growers of this pepper to access facilities for expansion and marketing of their produce.

Spicing a unique kind of pepper
As simple and common as it is, pepper is a major income earner for many countries. India and Iran, for instance, are major exporters of chili and over the years, have perfected the science and art of processing and packaging these commodities for export.Nigeria may have lost a major opportunity to raise pepper as a major income earner. It is on record that what is today imported into Nigeria as Cameroon pepper had its origin in the 1980s when Cameroonian students in Nigerian universities, notably the University of Nigeria, researched and took the agro commodity home, from where it has, for some years, been re-exported back to Nigeria.

But this is about to reverse. For one, Ose Nsukka does not grow very well in other areas outside of Nsukka and when it does, it loses its distinctly unique flavor. This explains why many rural farmers in Nsukka, especially women, have been making significant income planting and selling their pepper to other parts of the country.

Ose Nsukka has become an industry worth millions of naira per annum. The intervention of the Federal and State Government has added some fillip to the business, enabling expansion of otherwise small unit farms. The problem, however, was the perishable nature of the product, a development that leads to losses running into several million.

But it seems a number of players in the growing agricultural sector of Enugu State are already innovating around ensuring that the pepper is better branded, preserved and given longer shelf life without losing its taste and flavor. Professor Michael Uguru, a plant breeder at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, in active collaboration with Daniel Ochi, Director-General of the Nsukka Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, has collaborated to preserve Ose Nsukka, potentially spinning a multi-million naira industry in the process.

Uguru, who spoke at the MSME Clinics, revealed that the Nsukka pepper had the opportunity to become a multi-billion naira industry that would be exported to almost all parts of the world. The professor, who spoke when Vice-President Osinbajo paid a visit to his stand at the exhibition hall, explained that preserving the product would enhance its export value, which would enhance income opportunities for rural farmers.“As we speak,” he told Vice-President Osinbajo, “we already have orders for 10 tonnes of the Nsukka pepper from the United States. There are also others making inquiries from Europe and other countries, especially because you cannot get the pepper from any other part of the world.”

Harvesting and harnessing people’s energy for enterprise
As with those growing pepper, so it is with those in other types of farming. Exhibitors at the event also included rice farmers and millers and those growing and processing plantain into flour. There are a number of other players in other areas of farming, a sure footprint towards a growing industry that is keeping families from hunger, generating income for families and teaching otherwise local farmers how to manage business partnerships and run more organized organizations. According to Governor Ugwuanyi, “It has already made far-reaching decisions on business practices, process reforms and harmonization of revenue charges.”

How to sustain these gains and ensure maximum value addition may be the next challenge the Enugu State government will have to confront and defeat. But Agu, Special Adviser on Small and Medium Enterprise and Investment Promotion, says the government would not rest on these laurels and would continue to do all to deepen the culture of entrepreneurship among the people of the state.

“We will continue to work with the people to create more businesses and create more business people. Our people are naturally enterprising but we will continue to ensure we raise all latent entrepreneurial and creative talents in all our people. We won’t just be helping them access capital but more importantly, we will help them through capacity building to ensure they approach what they do strictly from a business perspective,” Agu stated.

Source: The Guardian

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