By Bolaji Odumade
No dought, Nigeria is going through economic recession. Many states in the country are finding i t hard to meet their statutory responsibilities. No nation can thrive without the development of her agricultural sector. This is a sector of the economy that has the capacity to provide employment for over 80% of the population, if given the deserved attention. Universally, the importance of food to man’s sustenance cannot be over-emphasized.
As a result nations that are truly great and developed, give earnest consideration to agriculture. In the United Kingdom, for instance, food is perhaps the least of their concerns. This is as a result of the practice of mechanized farming. Hence, farmers are well taken care of in that clime. Here, in Nigeria, it is, however, sad that farmers are not motivated, largely because of pitiable access roads, poor transportation system and all lack storage facilities.
Thus, over the years, the practice of agriculture has suffered. The result is over reliance on food importation which subsequently depletes our foreign reserves.
Between 2005 and 2015, Nigeria monthly import bill rose from N148b to N917b. Sadly, most of the imported food items can be produced in Nigeria.
The crash of crude oil price, coupled with activities of militants, have exposed the helplessness of the nation as an import dependent economy.
Unlike in the 60s and early 70s when agriculture supported about 55% of the nation’s economy, same sector currently contribute 19% to the economy. With oil not able to sustain the economy anymore, renewed interest is expected to be on agriculture, which for decades was the mainstay of the economy.
In an urban centre like Lagos, the story is almost saddening as large expanse of land that used to provide food employment for both young and old, gradually gave way to housing estates, filling stations, hotels among others. In the early ‘70s, Lagos used to boast of agricultural settlement such as Dairy farm, in Agege, Ikorodu, Epe and Badagry. They were established to provide food and employment for the people. With a growing population estimated at 20 million, Lagos residents consume a chunk of the food supply in the country. Rice is the staple food for most homes in Lagos and, indeed, Nigeria. Therefore, rice importation is common and billions of naira is spent annually. As a result local rice production suffers huge negligence. Local rice producers are not encouraged.
But in a renewed effort to ensure food security and sustainable development, the Lagos state government has entered into partnership with Kebbi state government with the aim of boosting rice production. In light of steady increase in Lagos state population without a corresponding increase in food production, the partnership is, indeed, a welcome development. Lagos has the population, the purchasing power, processing plant as well as manpower to translate whatever amount of rice that is produced from Kebbi state to finished consumable of international standard.
One must recognize and appreciate the efforts of the Lagos state government in rice production at Itoikin, Igbogun around Lekki Local Council Development Area couple with the presence of the multi-million naira rice mill at Imota. However, outputs from these places are grossly inadequate in meeting local demands.
The Lagos-Kebbi rice partnership, in line with calls for diversification of the economy is intended to bring about national food sufficiency as well as creation of employment and wealth distribution for the benefits of both states and the nation as a whole. It is a partnership that thrives on making pragmatic use of available resources of both states for the common good of citizenry.
Kebbi, for instance, is endowed with vast arable land suitable for agricultural production in rice, wheat, maize, sorghum, groundnut etc while Lagos, on the other hand, has capacity to process whatever is produced at the rice mill located at Imota, in Ikorodu for both local consumption and export.
Lagos’ huge population provides a huge market for rice production. According to the state Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, Lagos has the required market and the purchasing power to stimulate rice production in the country. Outside the food security and economic benefits of Lagos, Kebbi agricultural partnership, other benefits may include introduction of best agriculture practice to maximize yield, infrastructural renewal of agricultural settlements, improved transportation systems such as railway networks which has the capacity to move produce en-mass without undue interference. In expectation of mass production, interest of the states will be developed in capacity to preserve thus avoid waste.
Other benefits of the Lagos- Kebbi rice partnership are its capacity to renew investors’ interest in agro-based industries, boost for agric related cooperative societies, among others.
The height of insecurity in the nation calls for more concerted effort by all levels of governments in the country to device new methods of tackling the twain issues of food security and unemployment in the country.
Youth unemployment, if not immediately addressed, could be a time bomb for the country. It is, therefore, anticipated that more states in the country will follow the laudable Lagos-Kebbi path in order to promote food sufficiency and economic development in the country.
As our nation is confronted with enormous challenges, the time to pay adequate attention to the agriculture sector is now. It ffers unlimited opportunities for accelerated economic and industrial growth.
*Odumade writes from Lagos