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Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and with its population growing by four to five million people per year, it is a huge market for American products. In 2015, Nigeria purchased over $700 million of exports from the United States, 73 percent of which was wheat from American farmers. What is good for Nigeria is good for the US too. Economic development efforts in Nigeria and the Nigeria Delta are not charitable; they are strategic. Moving away from a more traditional development model focused directly on giving, which can create dependency on donor funding, and instead building market systems that are responsive to local needs, create opportunities and address barriers to growth.

The Niger Delta Partnership Initiative (NDPI) Foundation represents this unique development model rooted in partnership. Begun with $90 million of seed funding by Chevron Corporation in 2010, NDPI harnesses the power of the private and public sectors to help alleviate poverty and instability in Nigeria’s Niger Delta through collaborative, market-based solutions that are community owned and implemented. Since 2010, we have worked with more than 500 organizations, including aid agencies such as USAID and DFID, local and state governments and NGOs. Through this partnership approach, NDPI has helped bring in nearly $100 million in additional investment into the Niger Delta. 

A lesson we have learned through our years of working in Nigeria’s Niger Delta is that the path to stability and prosperity is built on opportunity. When regional economies are strong and secure, farmers, fishers and families are able to thrive and live up to their full potential. Despite an abundance of natural resources in the Niger Delta region, millions of people suffer from chronic poverty and lack essentials such as safe water, electricity, education and the opportunity to build a better life for themselves.  These conditions have fomented repeated cycles of conflict. With this new model of development, we are breaking the cycle of conflict.

Communities spread across the Niger Delta’s nine states are diverse – nearly 32 million people from more than 40 ethnic groups – but their struggles are strikingly similar. Even though the region is the source of around 80% of Nigeria’s revenue, 70% of the population in the region live on an average of less than US $2 a day and are often beset by conflict, making the Niger Delta one of the world's leading development challenges.

NDPI's analysis of economic needs in the Niger Delta (including a review of 25 different value chains) led to investments in several agriculture value chains and the establishment of two economic development centers- where USAID and DFID staff are co-located with our own team.

Building agriculture value chains is key to promoting stability and prosperity in the Niger Delta.  The MARKETS II project, supported in partnership with USAID, seeks to increase Nigeria’s agricultural productivity and food security by building commercially sustainable agricultural commodity value chains that are accessible to poor rural farmers or smallholders.

Using a market-based approach, NDPI’s Economic Development program helps grow the region’s most promising sectors – cassava, palm oil and aquaculture. Informed by ongoing research and analysis, NDPI builds capacity in these sectors to increase efficiencies, build the capability of local businesses and, ultimately, raise the incomes of people working in them.

And we have found that progress – even in an environment as difficult as the Niger Delta – is possible. It requires constant collaboration and an appetite for risk – including the ability to fail and learn from our mistakes. But we have seen that systemic change is possible. The incomes of the farmers we work with have increased by 92% over the past seven years, with over 33,000 people across the Delta increasing their incomes. Thousands of new jobs have been created in these agriculture sectors, including needed jobs for unemployed and at-risk youth.  Not only does this enhance stability within Nigeria, but it also opens potential new customers for US exports including agricultural products.   

NDPI and our partners have invested in new small-scale equipment like palm fruit processors that have enabled millers to increase their profits by 40% by significantly reducing their processing time. In aquaculture, NDPI and its private-sector partners developed strategies and trained fishers to maximize yields, provide guidance on where to stock fish, how to maximize their growth and quarantine them against disease risk, which knows no boundaries.

The road ahead for the Niger Delta, and for NDPI’s work, will certainly be laden with many challenges.  Yet, with a strategy centered on economic opportunity and the development of the region’s agriculture economy, there is reason for optimism.  Investing in Nigeria in this way, Chevron is showing how contributing to economic development is helping create opportunities for peace and lasting stability.  Through partnership and the empowerment of a growing network of entrepreneurs, NDPI seeks to achieve lasting change and to demonstrate that sustainable economic development, and the prosperity and stability that come with it, must be rooted in market-based and locally-led growth strategies.

About the Author: Heather Kulp is the Executive Director of the Niger Delta Partnership Initiative, an independent foundation established by Chevron that harnesses the power of the private and public sectors to help alleviate poverty and instability in the Niger Delta through collaborative, market-based solutions that are community owned and implemented.