Feeding the Nation, Securing Lives



Amid the challenges of providing food security, the Lagos State Government recently rounded off a two-day summit on food security, during which stakeholders advocated strategic investment in agricultural sector. Gboyega Akinsanmi writes
Only last week, stakeholders in agricultural sector – academia, civil society, investors, policymakers in governments and the media – converged on Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja. A good number of practitioners too flooded the location with a common position, which the state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode said, was taken to end the gravest threat to humanity.
That was the passion that drove the just concluded Lagos Food Security Summit and Exhibition. It was, perhaps, the first of its kind in the state, even in the entire country. Convened under a theme, ‘Actualising Sustainable Food Security in Lagos State: A New, Comprehensive Agenda’, the summit was designed to foster food security in the state.
Likewise, this passion shared some commonalities with Ambode’s policy thrust. In the main, he said the summit was convened “to explore the state’s agricultural value chain potentials; establishstrategic partnership with other states and equallymaximise its comparative advantage in the sector.” In all, he said, it was designed to guarantee sustainable food security.
That was indeed the central thrust to which every participant subscribed. Like other stakeholders, however, the governor contextualised the summit simply in the light of prevailing economic recession. For him, this economic condition has made it compelling and imperative to develop a sustainable programme that will guarantee food security for the people of the state. 
He reeled out his concerns one after the other. He, first, faulted the country’s policy choice, which he said, had been a source of food crisis. As a country with comparative advantage in agriculture, Ambode lamented the country’s policy choice of spending billions of foreign exchange “to import food and food items, many of which can be cultivated in our country.”
He, also, faulted the country’s approach to food production. He argued that agriculture “is not just a tool of poverty alleviation,” which he said, had dominated the policy content of most governments before now. Rather, he argued, agriculture is a business and profession, which strategic investment and sustained development if the country must get it right.
By implication, Ambode said the prevailing economic crises facing Nigeria “have called for a review of this approach and the redirection of our energies to food production. Our country is blessed with very good arable land and a climate that supports food production.” However, he said, political will is required to provide strategic guidance for actualising food security.
He, equally, lamented missed opportunities, which he said, were induced by poor policies anduntoward incentives. Rather, he said, the country created an army of malnourished children. It, also, created millions of unemployed youths, whom Ambode said, could have been meaningfully engaged if the country “has strategically developed agriculture and human capital together.”
For Ambode, however, it is not too late. He believed Nigeria “can still achieve food security and create employment opportunities for our teeming youth.” But he said it would require right policies and incentives, which he said, would “attract significant investment into the agricultural sector. Every nation must be able to feed its citizens without resorting to importation.”
He, thus, ruled out alternative to achieving food security other than tilling the land. He canvassed best practices, which he said, would improve efficiency in the agricultural value chain. That was the exact point the governor said the state government “has started proving with this summit,” which sought to maximise the state’s comparative advantage.
Sound as Ambode’s policy direction might be, however, the Vice President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Sani Dangote made case for broader and wider approach. Dangote, who chaired the summit, believed the Ambode administration could expand its policy scope and work in the contest of South-west rather restricting itself “to resources available in its territory alone.”
Dangote observed geographical disadvantages of Lagos. He observed a substantial territory of Lagos is water, though that offers its own advantage. Amid its teeming population of over 22 million, Dangote said the state “is faced with the dearth of arable land.” Despite challenges its geography throws up, he said, Lagos can work towards feeding the South-west.
So, for him, the dearth of arable land should not limit the policy scope of the state government. Rather, Dangote noted that in spite of the shortage of arable land in the state, the state government “can effectively leverage on its comparative advantages “to guarantee not only food security in the state, but also feed all neighbouring states in the South-west.”
How can this be done? Dangote provided a little insight into how the state can feed itself; supply its neighbours and create massive wealth. For him, the era of frivolous spending must end; strategic investment be attracted and human capital must be developed together. He, thus, cited a whopping of $700 million spent “to import salt into Nigeria annually.”
He described the spending as unnecessary and pathetic. He argued that about 90 per cent of the salt consumed in Nigeria “is imported despite the availability of Atlantic Ocean in the country. But there is a process that allows us take water and extract salt from Atlantic Ocean. This will allow the country to keep $ 700 million spend annually importing salt.”
Dangote, extensively, examined the economic value of coconut industry. Even though it had been abandoned for decades, he said the industry had potentials “to generate huge foreign exchange annually. From this industry alone, over $1 billion can be generated annually considering the numerous benefits attached to coconut aside employment it will generate.”
Contingent on diverse opportunities the agricultural sector offers, Dangote canvassed sustained investment in new technologies and human capital. He asked the state government “to consider developing hybrid greenhouses where we can develop hybrid horticultures, fruits and other crops. It will help the state to transport food produce to other states.”
He, also, asked the state government “to embark on food preservation in order to ensure the availability of food items all-round the year. When there is no food security, there will not be any meaningful development in Nigeria. There are some challenges with availability of land. Although the state has confronted with large water body, but it is advantage to the state.” 
He said the state “has a large population with an economy ranked as the fifth largest in Sub-Saharan Africa. It also has a bulging youth population and capital of the country’s industrial base. It, thus, has the capacity to make agriculture a profitable business. This will encourage youths to take up agriculture as a profession and contribute their quota to achieving food security.”
Ambode’s programme, however, is not at variance to what Dangote canvassed at the summit. This was evident in the volume of food and food items its people consume daily. Based on the state’s household statistics, Ambode said the state “consumes over N3 billion worth of food daily. This represents a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs in the agric sector.”
On this ground, the governor explained different initiatives his administration had adopted to achieve food security. He specifically cited a memorandum of understanding (MoU) his administration sealed with the Kebbi State Government in the first quarter. In the main, he said the initiative was “to develop rice, wheat, groundnut, onion, maize and beef value chain.”
By projection, Ambode assured that the partnership “can result in the supply of 70 per cent of the total national rice consumption.” By implication, he noted that the partnership could save Nigeria about $11 billion it spends annually “to import wheat, rice, sugar and fish among others.” For him, the task of achieving food security forms the fulcrum of our administration.
He, also, cited another form of partnership the state had developed with Ogun, Oyo and Abuja. In each of these states, the governor disclosed that the state had acquired land purely for agricultural purposes. In Ogun State, for instance, he said the state acquired 500 hectares of farm land for rice cultivation. In Osun State, also, he said 84.7 hectares for oil palm processing among others.
Of the 84.7 hectares acquired in Osun State,Ambode noted that about 20 hectares “is already used for palm produce. Others are used for rice farming, cassava and maize among others. Besides, Lagos State has acquired additional 1,000 hectares of land in Osun State.” In Abuja too, he said the state acquired 50 hectares primarily “to support food production.”
By his judgment, therefore, the governor believed the partnership had paid off in the last 18 months. He explained that the state “only collaborated with other states in the areas of comparative advantage. It has, indeed, proved especially beneficial for Lagos State given its low land mass and the rapid urbanisation and industrialisation in the state.”
In the light of what Ambode earlier canvassed, the quest to pursue and attain sustainability in food security is imperative, Mr. Sanni Okanlawon said. Okanlawon, Special Adviser on Food Security, said the quest was the core reason behind the summit, which he said, would on the long run develop and institutionalise a food security framework.
Okanlawon, thus, explained the strategic significance of the framework, which according to him, would help guarantee sustainable food security for its growing population. He added that it would help realign emerging realities with new global trends on food safety, food processing, food storage, food handling, funding of agribusiness and agric insurance.
So, the special adviser said it would ease the process of doing business in “areas of investment opportunities including modern abattoirs, agro processing for export, storage facilities, dairy farming, and livestock feeds production and development of settlement among others. The investment climate in Lagos State is very bright and investors are guaranteed a profitable return.”