22nd January, 2014
By Rasak Musbau
It is very sad that with much potential to achieve agricultural success, streets in most parts of the country are full of all sorts of beggars, “assorted boko haram”, army of unemployed youths and political thugs. With food security an ongoing concern for the nation, it is expedient for one to align with Alex Haley’s immortal words, “Find the Good and Praise it”. This encourages people, especially political and corporate leadership, to do more in the quest to uplift the society that we live in.
It is with the afore-said that strides being made towards agricultural productivity and the birth of young vibrant agro-entrepreneurs in Lagos state should be commended. In recent time, there has been a geometric progression in the investment of government in the agricultural sector, which has necessitated the inclusion of it in the four thematic sectors: Power, Agriculture, Transportation and Housing (PATH), being accorded special attention.
It is the belief of the state government that the only way to effectively fight poverty in the country is to engage in agriculture and transform the nation into efficient producers of social, environmental and economic wealth. Being a coastal state, emphasis would naturally be on development of aquaculture. This has, however, not stopped the government from encouraging farmers in the state to grow crops such as rice, maize, cassava, in addition to boosting the growth of oil palms and coconut.
As an icing on the cake of its agriculture policy, farmers have been assisted with valuable inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, in addition to greater access to mechanized farming, as the government continues to buy more tractors and related implements. The Fashola administration has optimised the use of the natural endowments to develop industrial fisheries, artisanal fisheries and aquaculture facilities across Lagos. This is meant to address the shortfall of about 200,000 tonnes of fish which led Nigeria as a whole to import $700 million (about N105 billion) worth of fish and fish products in 2009 alone.
The success of the Ikorodu Fish Farm Estate sited on a 34-hectare parcel of land in Odogunyan, Ikorodu, which produces 10,000 tonnes of fish every year and is fully subscribed, is most notable.
The Ketu-Ereyun Fish Farm Estate is located on a 60-hectare land on the Itoikin-Epe Road. This was conceptualised in response to the success of the Ikorodu Fish Farm Estate and in the same manner, has been subdivided into 482 plots for allocation to interested and qualified members of the public. Like the Ikorodu Fish Farm, the Ketu-Ereyun Fish Farm also has capacity for 10,000 tonnes but with additional supporting facilities like hatcheries, processing and marketing centres.
Nigeria is one of the largest consumers of pork in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is in view of this that the Lagos State government has developed two pig farm estates – the Oke-Aro Pig Farm Estate and the Gberigbe Pig Farm Estate – across 80 hectares of land, and the overriding goal is for 1,200 pig farmers to nurture a total pig population of over 88,000. The Gberigbe Pig Farm Estate was conceived to complement the Oke-Aro Pig Farm Estate as a 40-hectare project. There were 35 pig farmers and just over 3,000 pigs within the estate. Additional investments were made for four years to establish more pig pens; provide an abattoir; drainage, roads; waste management and electricity. The old stock of pigs was replaced through the setting up of an international pig breeding centre.
As a social engineer, Governor Fashola’s conviction of the need to engage the youths as potential agents of change for themselves and their communities, gave birth to Agriculture-based Youth Empowerment Scheme (AGRIC-YES). The scheme was intended as a social protection programme designed to empower the youths and train them in modern agricultural techniques in vegetable farming, poultry, livestock farming, aquaculture and basic book-keeping.
Through the AGRIC YES scheme, the state has invested in a 20,000 metric tonne rice processing and milling plant in Imota. The primary goal of the project is to reduce dependence on imported rice and also create jobs and wealth for the people. At optimal capacity, the mill will provide permanent jobs for about 100 individuals while an additional 70,000 jobs will be created within the value chain in harvesting, planting and weeding. At least 3,500 hectares rice fields are required to provide rice paddy for the mill.
The ‘Rice-for-Job’ programme was launched in 2008 by the Fashola administration to create jobs for unemployed youths; strengthen local capacity for rice production, achieve a production target of 1,600 tonnes of paddy per annum and facilitate access to rice processing equipment. The programme has positively impacted many farmers within the last five years. Rice-for-Job is located on about 200 hectares of land in Itoikin, Epe and Ikoga in Badagry and also has a modern rice processing and milling centre.
Before the advent of the Fashola administration, tomato was cultivated in small farms around Ikorodu and Badagry. This tomato variety was prone to bacterial wilt and turned out extremely low yield, barely up to one per cent of the total requirement of Lagosians. To improve yield, a research was launched into tomato varieties that are resistant to bacteria while government distributed the certified seeds to farmers. To strategically resolve apparent distortions in the tomato value chain, the state government is adopting the Vegetable Farming Estate initiatives, similar in concept and scope with the fish and pig farming programmes. To this end, about 80 hectares of land have been designated as vegetable farms in three different locations – Igbodu (50 hectares), Iyaafin (20 hectares) and Araga (five hectares) – where vegetable farms will be set up to international standards with pre-production, production and post-production facilities.
As much as the state would love to enter into large scale food production scheme, it is being constrained by geographical factors. It is on record that Lagos state has the smallest land mass in Nigeria, put at 356,861 hectares, about 75,755 hectares of which are wetlands. With an ever-exploding population conservatively put at 20 million residents and projected to hit 30 million by 2025, Fashola and his team may have proved to all and sundry that where there is political will, there is always a way with the choice of approaching Osun and other states for cooperation in agricultural related ventures. The state has been granted relevant approvals to invest in the development of 84 hectares of farmland in Oshogbo, Osun State, which will be solely dedicated to the production of citrus fruits, mangoes, pineapples and oil palm. An agreement is being reached with the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, Moore Plantation, Ibadan, that will consult and manage the project on completion, under terms that will be agreed.
Data from various world organisations reflect the declining fortune of the agricultural sector in the country. Available statistics shows that Nigeria has over 53 million starving people, about 30 per cent of its estimated 167 million people.
To reverse the trend, governments across the country need to intensify efforts in harnessing the potentials of the sector as a catalyst for economic and industrial transformation.
•Musbau is of Features unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy.