Alliance against Hunger

Arising from their desire to achieve food sufficiency and create more jobs, among others, Lagos and Kebbi States recently ratified a memorandum of understanding, which according to the two state governments, would help to meet 70 per cent of Nigeria’s rice demand. Gboyega Akinsanmi writes
Recently, the Lagos State Government and its Kebbi counterpart signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU). The thrust of the agreement was to produce 70 per cent of Nigeria’s rice requirement. But the agreement does not centre on rice production alone. It equally focuses on boosting the production of wheat, groundnut, maize, millet, sorghum, sugarcane and cow in the country. 
Going by its objective, the agreement, which is perhaps the first of its kind in the history of Nigeria, has huge implication. Currently, according to Rice Millers, Importers and Distributors Association of Nigeria (RiMIDAN), about 5.5 million tons of rice is required per annum. But in all, Nigeria only produced between 3.4 million tons in 2015, thereby creating a production gap of at least 2.1 million tons.
Over the decades, the country’s policy choice has favoured rice importation, which different reports of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) showed, had grave implications for domestic rice production, foreign exchange and employment generation. In a recent report, the bank said the country spent a whopping sum of $2.41 billion on rice importation between January 2012 and May 2015.
But Nigeria has a huge agricultural potential, which Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode and his Kebbi counterpart, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu agreed, could have helped bridge the country’s rice production gap if the right policy choice was adopted. This potential is evident in a document indicating that Nigeria “has over 84 million hectares of arable land. But only 40 percent is cultivated.” 
Confronted with the current harsh economic realities, the two governments are bent on producing 70 per cent of rice production in no distant future, which Bagudu said, was a shared vision of Lagos and Kebbi States. Even though it was the vision the duo shared, Bagudu said the agreement was ratified in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s resolve “to restructure Nigeria away from dependence on oil.”
But the vision started at the first National Economic Council (NEC) meeting the Buhari administration convened, which according to him, provided “a guide into Buhari’s economic policy thrust. From the first time we met at the NEC meeting, we decided to see what we can do for ourselves.”
However, Bagudu said, Ambode’s leadership and innovation has translated the shared vision to the MoU.
He said: “We believe in the vision of President Buhari to transform Nigeria from dependence on crude oil. We believe the two states can significantly contribute to national food sufficiency and food security for our country. We believe the people of our dear states can benefit immensely from this cooperation. We can add value jointly. We can create employment. We can generate more revenues. 
“It is better to invest in infrastructure of wellness and not infrastructure of illness. When you eat properly, you are investing in wellness. In the world that genetically modified food is all over the place with all kinds of health concern, this is an additional motivation for us to do what can work for our people; what can provide certainty for our people and also add value significantly to what we are doing.
“Kebbi and Lagos can provide 70 per cent of Nigeria’s rice needs. We believe what we are doing today will help us to achieve that both in production and processing. We intend to do the same thing for wheat, maize, millet, groundnut and sorghum. We can do it together. Kebbi State after Yobe State as par the records of the National Livestock Censors is the second largest in animal resources.
“We can invest in grazing reserves. We can invest in abattoirs that can help our people. We can help Fulani reduce the trafficking of live animals to Lagos. It can help provide better, cheaper, more qualitative, well-processed meat in Lagos where the butchers or the people involved in the value chain can be involved from the beginning to the end, thereby adding more value in what we do.
“Lagos, if it were a country on its own, is a country that other states will be going to establish a relationship. So, why can we not establish inter-state partnership? So, what we are doing is that we are pioneering a collaboration that will bring other states on board. We believe our potential is enormous. We must have pacesetters to start the process of collaboration for our collective good.”
What actually informed the Lagos-Kebbi partnership? Bagudu believed strongly that the partnership was inevitable because Lagos and Kebbi “have a long history of trade.” He noted that the two governments “are not starting something new. Rather, we are only cementing what has been in existence before now and adding value to it so that the people of Lagos and Kebbi are richer together.”
Likewise, Ambode acknowledged the historical ties of the two states upon which Bagudu explained the agreement. But Ambode provided some pragmatic indicators, which he said, made the Lagos-Kebbi alliance compelling and inevitable. He first cited the comparative advantages of the two states that made the partnership economically reasonable and realistic.  
By virtue of population, Ambode said Lagos “is the largest consumer of food commodities in Nigeria.” In terms of land expanse, the governor said Kebbi “is an agrarian state with over 1.2 million hectares of arable land characterised by very large floodplains, lowland swamps and gentle slopes.”
Also, Ambode pointed out the purchasing power of Lagos. He noted that the state “has the market, with the required purchasing power. Lagos has an estimated consumption of over 798,000 metric tonnes of milled rice per year which is equivalent to 15.96 million of 50kg bags, with a value of N135 billion per annum.” 
Of its 1.2 million hectares of arable land, Ambode said Kebbi “is yet to reach its full potential. In the 2014 /2015 wet season, for instance, over 600,000 hectares of land was deployed for rice cultivation in the three senatorial areas of the state.” By implication, Ambode said Kebbi “is blessed with a vast arable land suitable for the cultivation of rice, wheat, ground nut, maize, sorghum and sugarcane.” 
He thus said these indicators explained the rationale behind the decision of Lagos “to enter into a partnership for food processing, production and distribution. We embark on a joint venture to feed our people, establish commercial enterprises; create employment and wealth distribution for own benefits.”
Citing its huge agricultural potential, Ambode said Nigeria had the economic prowess “to produce rice locally.” Consequently, the governor added that the era of imported rice “is gone. The reality is, for all of us, to embrace the consumption of local foodstuff and commodities. In addition to rice, Lagos is currently consuming 6,000 herds of cattle daily which may increase to 8,000 in the next five years.”

Arguably, Ambode said the bulk of the vegetables produced in the country ended up in the Lagos markets. He also noted that Lagos State “is one of the largest producers of poultry and has a large demand for maize for livestock feed production. The state also houses most of the industrial users of wheat and sorghum; mostly flour mills, bakeries, breweries and food manufacturers.”
On these grounds, Ambode argued that the future of Lagos State “is partly tied to deliberate resolution on food security. But food production and self-sufficiency require our immediate attention at policy and strategic levels to sustain ourselves.” Without strategic partnership, Ambode acknowledged that the state’s resolution on food security would be practically impossible.
This, therefore, explained why Ambode proposed that inter-state collaboration “is key to realising the country’s goal to achieving food security.” He said Lagos and Kebbi “have taken steps to explore  respective areas of comparative advantages to achieve food security for Nigeria and save our foreign exchange.
“In specific terms, this collaboration will produce 70 per cent of Nigeria’s rice demand. The multiplier effect of this collaboration will be felt in the areas of job creation, the development of ancillary industries, the strengthening of our local currency against the Dollar and other major international currencies.”
Specifically, Ambode argued that more of this inter-state collaboration should be encouraged as a major driving force for the diversification of the economy, noting that there “are many more areas of collaboration to be explored in the nation. The political leadership must develop the will to make this initiative work, to achieve food security and promote backward integration for industrial growth.”
He disclosed that the collaboration “is in line with the clarion call and policy direction given by President Buhari, on the need to feed ourselves.” However, he pointed out that Lagos “has always embraced inter-state cooperation as a strategy to fast-track economic growth and development.”
Prior to the agreement with Kebbi State in the North-West, Ambode revealed that Lagos “has collaborated with states from within the western region in the areas of comparative advantage for the partner states.” He cited the state’s partnership with Osun State, where Lagos “has 84 hectares of land in Osogbo.”
Of the 84 hectares of land in Oshogbo, Ambode said 20 hectares “are used for palm produce, while others are used for rice farming, cassava and maize. Lagos State also acquired additional 1,000 hectares of land in Osun, 500 hectares in Ogun and Oyo each and 50 hectares in Abuja to support farming.
“In addition, all granites used on construction sites across Lagos State are being sourced from quarries located in Ogun State. These relationships have proved especially beneficial for Lagos State given its low land mass and the rapid urbanisation and industrialisation in the state,” the governor explained. 
For sub-national governments, developing regional or inter-state cooperation is not enough, according to Ambode. However, he argued, functionality of inter-state cooperation depends on some conditions, which he said, could undermine effective implementation of the agreement if nothing “is done about it.”
For regional or inter-state cooperation to yield the desired result in terms of enhanced inclusive growth, Ambode pointed out that both national and sub-national governments “must work together to develop functional modern rail and water transportation system. The movement of goods, materials and people by road is not only inefficient but fraught with risks, safety hazards and detrimental to our roads.”
He cited the example of Lagos-Kebbi initiative, which he said, would involve movement of thousands of tons of paddy rice “to Lagos for processing in the mills.” Apparently, Ambode said the feat “can only be achieved more efficiently through a modern rail system which at present remains largely undeveloped.”
Already, the two governments had been working together to transform their agreement to action. Just after the MoU was ratified, they had floated LASKEB Agricultural Production and Marketing Company (LAPMCO), a special purpose vehicle set up to implement the MoU. In the same spirit, Ambode had directed that the Imota Rice Processing Factory be upgraded to produce 20,000 metric tonnes per hour.
Aside Kebbi, Ambode Lagos “is looking at possible partnership with other states. In the long run, such collaboration will ensure that residents can consume locally processed rice within the next six months. This is a major investment and we cannot allow it to rot away. So in the next three to six months, when we come back here, we must be eating Eko Rice. But we must a vibrant infrastructure in place.