Lagos, Kebbi and the socio-economy of Lake Rice
A few months back, the Lagos and Kebbi State Governments began a partnership aimed at enhancing food security as well as boosting agro-economic activities in the two states. Specifically, the partnership is geared towards improving rice production in the country and it thrives on the pragmatic use of existing resources for the common good of the citizenry. Kebbi, for instance, is endowed with vast arable land suitable for agricultural production in rice, wheat, maize, sorghum, groundnut etc while Lagos has the needed industrial and economic potentials to drive the partnership.
It 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.
Like every other public sector’s ventures, many were sceptical about the feasibility of the initiative. Today, however, LAKE (an acronym of both Lagos and Kebbi) Rice which is the fruit of the partnership has since been rolled out for public consumption.
At a recent public event, the product was jointly presented to the public by the governors of Lagos and Kebbi States respectively. The involvement of the two governors is quite understandable because LAKE Rice, which is grown in Kebbi State, is milled in Lagos.
It is currently out on sale at designated points such as Odogunyan Farm Service Centre, Ikorodu, Temu Farm Service Centre; Epe, Eredo-Noforija Town Hall, Ibeju, Alade High School, Maryland at SUBEB Premises, LSADA Complex/Farm Service Centre, Agege, LAISA Office Agric Bus Stop, Ojo, Mowo-Coconut House, Badagry, Town Farm Service Centre, Marina, Ikeja Grammar School, Bolade, Oshodi, Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere, Mobolaji Johnson Sports Centre, Rowe Park, Yaba among others at the rate of N12, 000 per 50kg .
Considering the current harsh economic reality in the country, its roll out, no doubt, offers good tidings to Lagosians as it is believed that it would cushion the effect of economic recession to a great extent. The price tag is equally largely considered reasonable and moderate when compared with that of imported rice of same quantity which is sold for over N20, 000 for a bag of rice across the country. Aside from providing succour for local consumers, one major goal of the LAKE Rice Project is economic diversification. Presently, the need for economic diversification in our country cannot be over-emphasised.
Faced with a bleak economic prospect brought about by an agonising economic recession, this, indeed, is the exact time for governments at all levels to embrace every creative strategy that would fast track economic emancipation. It is, therefore, quite commendable that the Lagos and Kebbi State Governments are already leading the way in this direction.
Repeatedly, experts have cited agriculture as a potential catalyst with the prospect of creating jobs while at the same time, ensuring food security and alleviating poverty. According to statistics, Nigeria has 84million hectares of arable land but only 40% of it is cultivated. This is an indicator that so much still needs to be done, with 60% of its rich arable land yet to be cultivated; millions of jobs can be generated while the over 53million starving people in the country can be catered for.
This is the precise moment to alter the unenviable status of our nation as the highest importer of food in Africa. According to a Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, statistics, within five months in 2014, Nigeria spent about $1billion on food importation alone. Some of the imported food items include rice, wheat, fish, sugar and many others. This is partly why the country has reportedly lost over N10 trillion since 2005, in foreign exchange, as it was maintaining the economies of other nations through food importation.
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 has exposed the helplessness of the nation as a monolithic import dependent economy. Unlike in the 60s and early 70s when agriculture supported about 55% of the nation’s economy, the same sector currently contributes a mere 19% to the economy. With oil not able to sustain the economy anymore, renewed interest should be on agriculture, which for decades sustained our then buoyant economy.
Outside the food security and economic benefits of LAKE Rice, other benefits may include the introduction of best agriculture practice to maximise yield, infrastructural renewal of agricultural settlements, improved transportation systems such as railway networks which have the capacity to move produce en-mass without undue interference. In expectation of mass production, the interest of the states will be developed in capacity to preserve, thus avoiding wastage.
Other benefits include 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 a more concerted effort by all tiers of governments in the country to urgently devise new methods of tackling the twin 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 state governments will follow the laudable LAKE Rice path in order to promote food sufficiency and economic development in the country.
Globally, nations that are considered as truly great and developed, give earnest consideration to agriculture. In the United Kingdom, for instance, food is the least of their concerns, as a result of the practice of mechanised farming. Hence, farmers are well respected and well to do in that clime. Here, in Nigeria, it is, however, sad that the reverse is the case as farmers are discouraged mostly because of deplorable agric infrastructure. Thus, over the years, the practice of agriculture has been dealt a fatal blow. The result is over reliance on food importation which subsequently depletes of our foreign reserves.
With a growing population of over 20million, it is clearly wise and convenient for Lagos, in particular, to embrace food security. Lagosians consume about 50% of food supply in the country. Since rice is the staple food for most homes in Lagos, it is anticipated that most Lagos residents would benefit immensely from the production and sale of LAKE Rice.
As our nation is confronted with enormous economic challenges, the time to pay adequate attention to the agriculture sector is now as it offers unlimited opportunities for accelerated economic and industrial growth across the land. To continue to neglect such a vital sector will cast doubt on our seriousness as a people. Through LAKE Rice, Lagos and Kebbi have shown the light, others should follow.
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information & strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.