MAY 15, 2017 | PHIL BOLTON
Since his arrival in Atlanta in February, Nigeria’s consul general, Kayode Laro already has traveled extensively throughout Georgia and been immersed in its culture.
In April, he joined 20 other international representatives on a VIP tour organized by the Georgia Department of Economic Development, which exposed him to a wide variety of Middle Georgia’s sites including a rum distillery, the watermelon capital of the world, the town where the television series “The Walking Dead” is filmed, Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival and the peach groves surrounding Fort Valley.
He’s even made a trip to Plains, former President Jimmy Carter’s home town. His memory of Plains, he recalled at a welcome dinner hosted by the American Nigerian International Chamber of Commerce at the World Trade Center May 9, was that whether he looked to the right or to the left he saw one farm after another. “All you see are farms, farms, farms,” he emphasized.
He also noticed that stretches of Middle Georgia produce peaches, but he has been most astounded by the state’s production of broilers. For those among the guests who might not have known, broilers are chickens, he said jokingly.
What he has learned that has been most astounding to him, he said, is that broilers contribute $4.4 billion to Georgia’s gross domestic economy. “That’s a mind boggling statistic.”
Back in his office at the Consulate General on Roswell Road, he has been researching Georgia’s agricultural sector and is compiling figures on the state’s production of eggs, meat, cotton and peanuts.
With 17 U.S. states under his jurisdiction, Georgia should be flattered he has been so focused on its assets. But he underscored that the state’s location as a logistics hub with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s five runways and a sixth being planned, he felt the consulate was in the right place.
And he is putting the development of agricultural ties between the state and his country at the top of his agenda. “I encourage ANIC (the American Nigerian International Chamber of Commerce) to focus on agriculture,” he said. “With a population of 180 million, we have a huge demand for agricultural products. We tend to eat what we produce, but attitudes are changing and people are interested in trying things from other countries.”
Aside from changing tastes, however, he pointed to the country’s economic recovery growth plan as a major driver for Nigeria to expand it’s agricultural sector. He cited its success in the past of developing rice fields, but today he said there is a need to expand the country’s agricultural business capabilities including food processing.
“This chamber can partner with other chambers back home,” he added, explaining that the government’s interest in expanding Nigeria’s agricultural sector stems from the crash in oil prices it experienced in late 2015.
“There was a lot of turbulence,” he said. “The price of oil went from as high as $100 a barrel to $20, even though now it has gone back to around to $50, that fall in oil prices created a tremendous shock to the economy.”
He added that he was impressed that Georgia’s agricultural sector was primarily in the hands of private enterprise. “We have to recover the ground that we lost and our plan is a federal initiative, but we aren’t for the federal government to go this alone. We want to create an environment for business to flourish.”
Another reason that he has been impressed with Georgia agricultural sector is that it is a sustaining part of the state’s rural economy. “We don’t want our growth to be only for Lagos (the country’s capital with a population of more than 17 million) but for the entire country especially including its rural areas.