• Saturday, April 13, 2024
businessday logo


Food security: The Bago Challenge

Food security: The Bago Challenge

Against the run of play, Governor Mohammed Umaru Bago of Niger State ruffled feathers with his speech at the 2023 annual Leadership Newspaper Conference and Awards held in Abuja last week. This speech was an instant hit online and trended at different times on both Instagram and X (Twitter). Governor Bago’s arguments in his speech can be summarised in three ways:

First, as a nation, Nigeria cannot achieve economic freedom and eradicate poverty without being productive, especially in agriculture, where we have a comparative advantage.

Second, it is indefensible for a nation with an estimated arable land of 40 million hectares and a reasonable youth population to accept grain donation in whatever guise from war-torn Ukraine;

And third, because of natural and human endowment, Nigeria can feed the people and export the excess to other countries. There is nothing Governor Bago said that we do not already know, but as a nation, we have egotistically refused to accept these truths nor act on them. These arguments are significant because they were made by a serving Nigerian governor, a member of the powerful club that has enjoyed the monthly sharing arrangement called the Federation Account Allocation Committee ( FAAC).

“Make no mistake about it, Governor Bago was not just exercising his bragging rights; he was marketing his strategic plan to rescue Niger State from the sharing mentality, economic doldrums, poverty, unemployment,and criminality.”

Governor Bago ended his speech by throwing a challenge against the Federal Government’s promise to deploy and distribute 42,000 MT of grain from the strategic reserve, saying that the Niger State Government will deliver and distribute 100,000 MT of grain by June 2025. Make no mistake about it, Governor Bago was not just exercising his bragging rights; he was marketing his strategic plan to rescue Niger State from the sharing mentality, economic doldrums, poverty, unemployment, and criminality.

The Niger State Government plans to cultivate one million hectares of farmland, including a 50,000-hectare fully irrigated food production hub, over the next year. Over 500 large-capacity tractors, 1000 pieces of irrigation and agricultural equipment, 2000 power tillers, 2000 petrol water pumps, 3000 solar pumps, and 5000 tube wells have been delivered. The government has also acquired 100,000 bags of fertiliser, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. Governor Bago’s commitment to this agricultural revolution is evident and realistic.

Governor Bago’s challenge in Niger State is based on historical precedent and economic reasoning. Before the commercial production of crude oil, regional governments relied on agriculture for development. Infrastructure projects were funded by groundnut, cocoa, and palm oil. Agriculture’s multiplier effect allowed for employment and wealth creation, making it an engine of economic growth. This is still valid today, as some countries developed their food production and supply capacity, becoming the mainstay of their economies. The choice of agriculture as an engine of economic growth is still valid today.

Governor Bago’s speech represents a shift in the Nigerian government’s approach towards increased productivity and internal revenue generation. State governments are focusing on creating an environment for productivity and using food security as a catalyst for food production. This is a significant step in tackling food insecurity, as Nigeria’s food production depends on individual states’ contributions. The Niger governor’s message of self-reliance is particularly relevant, as it highlights the importance of addressing food insecurity through increased production.

Increasing our productive capacity and, by extension, enhancing our internally generated revenue is imperative. States, by the design of the 1999 Constitution, ought to be growth centres—actively participating in production and creating the institutional framework, structures, and environment to make this possible. However, only a few states have taken advantage of this vantage position to lift their people out of poverty. Most states function as salary payment centres. This must change if any meaningful development steps take place in Nigeria. Every state must look inward and decide the best path to economic progress.

The idea that consistent productivity at the sub-national level is one critical ingredient among many that will get us out of the economic mess we found ourselves in is more germane today than ever. The significance of this statement is that state governments are responsible for figuring out the best strategy to make their states viable and contribute to wealth creation and employment generation. Each state must tap into its comparative and competitive advantages to contribute to the national food basket.

A strategy for economic viability will require dealing with internal security issues coupled with medium- and long-term planning. The most crucial short-term action critical to agricultural production presently is to provide security and a safe environment for such economic activities to occur. Insecurity is a great headwind against agricultural productivity.

Agro-industrialisation is crucial for massive food production, local revenue, and foreign exchange generation. It involves adopting new agro-technology and removing outdated practices. State governments should leverage public-private partnership investments to bring in seasoned investors and agropreneurs to create modern mechanised agricultural facilities for mass food production and processing. The Edo, Jigawa, Nasarawa, and Akwa Ibom State governments are leading in this new PPP arrangement, collaborating with the private sector to produce food for all and generate revenue for the state and economy. This shift away from the “sharing mentality” is essential for a more sustainable future.

Governor Bago has thrown an open challenge to the Federal Government and his fellow state governors. There is a need for constructive engagement and healthy competition around subnational food productivity. Agricultural productivity has become an economic lifeline for the states, especially in the north. Kofi Annan argued that “food security is not only a moral issue but also a strategic one: without food, people have only three options: they riot, they emigrate, or they die. None of these are acceptable options.”

The fight against poverty, unemployment, hunger, and malnutrition is one of the most significant challenges of our time, and it’s a challenge that can be won in Nigeria.