The agriculture sector provides sufficient opportunity for Nigeria to diversify its economy, making it less susceptible to the volatility of oil prices.
In pursuing its new agro-centric policy, the present government has intervened through several measures. In recent times, the government has begun to deploy a Public-Private Partnership (PPPs) to develop the agriculture sector.
These attempts at the use of PPPs in the agriculture space are gaining ground as some projects have earnestly commenced, and some recently completed. This has already cascaded to the state levels as we have seen some states driving economic revolution in agriculture through private partnerships.
A recent example was the Kebbi State Government's partnership with GBfoods to build a N20 billion Tomato Processing Factory. It is the only fully backward integrated tomatoes processing plant in ECOWAS - and has the largest single tomatoes farm in Nigeria.
The world-class factory and adjoining farm, include drip irrigation and fertigation infrastructure, greenhouses, seed planting robots, incubation chambers, and an abundance of agricultural machinery. The farm will serve a dual purpose, it will produce industrial tomatoes in the dry season and soya beans in the raining season.
The Kebbi State government has expressed optimism that the collaboration will result in a win-win situation for the State, the private sector and all stakeholders in the agriculture sector in such a way that food sufficiency and safety will be guaranteed. The Governor has restated his commitment to working with the private sector to facilitate food security by harnessing public and private investment to create a strong, mixed sector economy that can provide jobs for all and create the base for expanding social services and environmental sustainability.
The Country Manager, GBfoods Nigeria, Mr. Vincent Egbe, stated that the company has been working hand in hand with federal and state governments to make Nigeria a shining example of food security and also become the food basket of Africa. For instance, the federal government encouraged and supported GBfoods to engage with the CBN, Ministries, Departments, and Agencies to ensure the successful completion of the Tomato Factory.
According to Egbe, the partnership yielded positive results with the completion of the N20 billion Tomato Factory. He commended the Kebbi State Government for leasing the land for the project and the host communities, especially the Emir of Yauri and the Ngaski Local Government authorities for being supportive.
The company is dedicated to developing the value chain to improve revenue streams for Tomato Farmers. Over the past three years, in the three states of Kaduna, Katsina, and Kebbi, GBfoods has worked with smallholder out-growers to boost their incomes by providing seedlings, fertilizers, training, and irrigation pumps. Egbe reiterated that the company would continue to work with the Government at all levels towards food security, local production, and processing of fresh Tomatoes.
Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, who is also Vice Chairman of the Federal Food Security Council, has repeatedly, through performance, exemplified the commitment of his administration towards the attainment of food security with the partnership and collaboration of organisations in the state just as he has demonstrated with GBfoods in completing the N20 billion Tomato Factory.
The state government has constantly assured prospective investors in the agriculture sector of a conducive business environment.
Undoubtedly, most traditional PPP projects are focused on the provision of infrastructure. It is important to give more attention to the next critical area where PPPs will be useful, which is the optimization of land use and the provision of agriculture infrastructure like irrigation, agro-processing, and storage facilities. These are essential components of the agriculture value chain.
In most cases, private sector farmers are unable to build this infrastructure themselves due to their high capital expenditure that is required and the unlikelihood that the investors would be able to recover the investment throughout the lifespan of the infrastructure. The government may have to evaluate which of the critical agri-business infrastructure it subsidises to accelerate national development through the agricultural sector.
The federal government in its recently unveiled Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan intends to undertake a mass agricultural programme that is expected to bring between 20,000 and 100,000 hectares of new farmland under cultivation in every state of the federation. The aim is to create millions of job opportunities, directly and indirectly, over a 12-month period.
"This project which will take place over a period of 12 months and is intended to expand existing production in the agricultural sector and stimulate the establishment of new farms in partnership with State Governments, the private sector and individual citizens.
"The intention is for the project to create 5 million jobs by focusing on increasing land under cultivation with State Governments contributing between 20,000 to 100,000 hectares from a combination of aggregated smallholder farms and utilisation of abandoned states farm settlements and agricultural projects.
"The project will span the entire agricultural value chain, from 'farm to table' as it were. It will support small holder farmers directly or through out grower schemes with services and inputs including land-clearing, ploughing, provision of seeds, saplings, fertilisers, pesticides as well as extension services, storage to mitigate post-harvest losses and equipment. Farmers will also be linked to low-interest input financing," the government stated in the plan.