Governor Babatunde Fashola
Crusoe Osagie examines the importance of agriculture in winning the war against poverty, citing the efforts of the Lagos State Government in reversing the perilous trend of unemployment and food insecurity
Studies have shown that investing in agriculture is twice as effective in reducing poverty as investing in other sectors. So, if the target of any government is actually to hit poverty at its core, then agriculture is the fastest option.
In Nigeria, where about 70 per cent of the working population is employed in agriculture, developing the sector makes common sense.
The words of the President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Dr. Kanayo Nwanze are instructive on this issue. He submitted that “development cannot be imposed from outside any nation.” He added, “Development can only succeed when it is driven by countries themselves and implemented by their citizens.”
Lagos State, more than any other in the country, requires lessons on food security, considering its exploding population, arguably the highest in Nigeria.
Commissioner of agriculture and co-operatives in the state, Gbolahan Lawal, recently observed that with the world’s population reported to have hit seven billion in 2011 and widely expected to increase to nine billion by 2050, the present level of global food production must increase by 70 per cent in order to bridge any major supply deficit.
The underlying weight of Lawal’s observation was also brought to light by the statement of Nwanze, who noted categorically that Nigeria may not be able to survive the impact of its population growth, which is expected to double by 2050, without a vibrant agricultural map that embraces pro-poor based researches and youths’ participation.
He noted that it was imperative for governments to create vibrant rural economies that offer attractive opportunities to young people in Nigeria because of the need to double its food production by 2050 to meet projected demand.
According to him, “With Nigeria’s population expected to double in 2050 the question is; what is the level of investment in the youths of today. Our leaders should start thinking long-term and not short term because Nigeria’s future will not be viable without a vibrant agricultural map. Oil money has not transformed Nigeria in the last 40 years and it will not unless someone changes that,” he said.
It is indisputable therefore that the global quest for hunger reduction and sustainable development are irrevocably connected, and only a better governance of agriculture and food systems can achieve both targets.
This is why a responsive government should give priority attention to the agricultural sector in order to secure the future of its people and provide meaningful employment for its teeming youths and rural dwellers, as this would also stem the tide of rural to urban migration.
Lagos Action against Hunger
In Nigeria it is not only the responsibility of the Federal Government to develop the agricultural sector as all hands must be on deck at all levels of governance to save the nation from an impending food crisis.
It was in light of this that the Lagos state government embarked on series of agricultural projects in its area of comparative and competitive advantages to provide employment for its teeming youth population, create wealth for its citizenry, while also averting looming food crises.
According to Lawal, ”In view of the low rate of increase of agricultural production worldwide, a concerted effort has to be taken to prevent rising prices and food shortages in the next few years.”
He noted that, despite its high industrial status, population density and pressure on land for non-agricultural purposes, Lagos has intensified productive farming activities in the areas where it has comparative ecological and socio-economic advantages, and has gone as far as obtaining agricultural lands in other states to supplement its land constraints.
The state government has concentrated efforts in boosting fisheries, livestock and vegetable production as well as agro-processing with emphasis on rice and cassava with linkages to markets and the whole value chain well integrated into the equation.
He stated that the aggregate food supplied internally was less than 10 per cent of total consumption, but the state is poised to increase this to 25 per cent within the next five years.
Changing Problems to Opportunities
The commissioner disclosed that Nigeria is the second highest net importer of rice after Philippines and spends about N1 billion a day to import polished rice of low nutritious value which have been stored for about 10 years from other countries.
To him, however, highly nutritious rice can be grown and processed here in the country, especially in Lagos, because of the presence of swampy lowland and uplands, which is very suitable for rice cultivation.
He stated that Lagos consumes 500,000MT of rice annually and that it was possible to produce at least 25 per cent of that locally because of the importance of food security and wealth creation.
And in a proactive manner the state has increased the land under rice cultivation from 20 to 360 hectares under the ‘rice for job’ initiative at Itoikin, Itoga and Idena areas of the state.
The ‘Rice for Job’ has provided employment and capacity building for 500 farmers across the rice value chain and training for machine operations for both male and female farmers who were seen during a tour of the farms operating various farm machines like tractors, planters and harvesters after only few months of training.
The success of the scheme, however, is hinged on the establishment of the state-of-the-art 20,000MT per annum Imota rice mill capable of producing 400,000 (50kg) bags of rice annually by the state government.
The mill serves as a ready off-taker for rice farmers under the scheme who neither have to worry about poor sales nor post harvest loss. According to the officer in-charge of the rice mill, Akinola Oyebola, the scheme is also poised for expansion with two new lines of production soon to be installed at the mill because expansion is considered a policy by the state ministry of agriculture and cooperatives.
Also speaking during a tour of the mill, the Lagos state rice consultant, Rotimi Fashola, said that they specify what farmers produce and also provide improved seeds and other inputs free of charge to the farmers in order to guarantee good and consistent quality of rice produced and packaged by the mill in 5, 25, and 50kg bags.
Lawal further pointed out that Lagos targets to do one million metric tonnes of fish by 2015 from its present 125,000mt, to meet consumption demand, which is at over 500,000mt out of the 780,000mt imported by Nigeria annually.
He said that Nigeria spends a lot of money to import fish and that any country that cannot provide its own food is vulnerable and at the mercy of the exporting countries’ trade policies, stressing that a country must be able to do what it has the ecological support for.
To remedy the situation the state government developed a fish farm estate at Ikorodu, comprising 179 fishing households with production capacity of 294.18 MT matured fish per annum and about 100,000 fingerlings monthly.
After conducting a Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) exercise the artisanal input service delivery programme was conceived by the state government to take care of the entire value chain in the artisanal fisheries subsector from production, storage, processing, transportation and marketing.
400 fishing families were provided with fishing gear comprising of outboard engines, fishing nets and other implements costing N4 million to each group of cooperative.
The only challenge the farmers now have is to catch as many fish as possible in order to meet up with the high demand of fish in the state; the government being ever-ready to off-take as much as they can supply. Indeed this is a programme geared towards ensuring the sustainable development of the subsector and encouraging more participation in agriculture.
With so many disillusioned youths roaming the streets aimlessly out of unemployment especially after graduation from the universities, the menace of unemployment has attained dizzying heights in the country.
And with farming being perceived as unattractive and a profession for poor illiterates and old people, the plea for young people to engage in agriculture has been nothing but an attempt to store water in a basket.
However, the Lagos state government seemed to have discovered the solution to the problem through its Agricultural Youths Empowerment Scheme (AGRIC-YES) which the commissioner described as an effort on the part of the state government to develop first class agro professionals on a landscape of 300 hectares of farmland and modern learning facilities and internet access.
Participants are selected after passing aptitude and oral tests for a period of six months training in aquaculture, poultry, animal husbandry and green house farming with another six months internship on full scholarships (accommodation, feeding and monthly stipends) at the establishment.
On completion of the programme the 100 participants per course are given a two-bedroom apartment N500 million and put in a cooperative of 20 persons each.
Two participants of the newly admitted Course IV trainees that resumed in July 2012, Diran Olowude and Esther Akintelu, were happy to be part of the course especially after graduation from the university and finding no viable employment.
They said that the course would afford them the opportunity to acquire knowledge in four agric-value chains and the advantage to compete favourably, stressing that agriculture is a serious business and farmers are no longer poor because of the edge of technology and research.
Graduates of the scheme were also paid a visit at their poultry farms, where they were seen to be making progress and were already employing other farm-hands to work for them. Asked where she sees herself in another five years, a graduate, Dada Funmilayo Koyumot, responded that she sees herself as a big-time successful multi-millionaire farmer.
Products from the scheme include over 1,500 crates of egg per day, 2,000 broilers per month, 18 tonnes of fresh fish per cycle and about 160 tonnes of cabbage, tomato, sweet melon, water melon, cucumber, pepper and assorted leafy vegetables per month, and these are already being marketed in the state.
Lagos currently has 88 extension officers which the commissioner promised to scale up to FAO recommendation of one extension officer to 1,000 farmers to enhance On-Farm Adaptive Research (OFAR).
He also disclosed that data base compilation of all farmers in the state was ongoing and presently the number of registered farmers stood at 43,000. To promote value addition, he solicited for the railway lines to be fixed in order to facilitate plans to help other states in processing and marketing their produce especially in areas where they have comparative advantages of production.
“We invite both local and foreign investors to come and invest in filleting and canning of fish in order to create more jobs and get good returns on investment. We have a target in Lagos, which is production, food security, job creation and poverty alleviation through agriculture.
“For our farmers and 21 million Lagosians, the administration of Governor Babatunde Fashola will continue to provide support to ensure food security and hopefully the idea of malnutrition will be a thing of the past.
“For the unemployed youths of the state we will also make sure that we provide the environment that will attract them to the fortunes in the agricultural sector. This government will not and cannot let Lagos be food insecure now and in the future,” he said reassuringly.