A few weeks ago, I embarked one of my favourite hobbies; a road trip across the beautiful land and places in Nigeria. Road travelling in Nigeria is an invaluable educational experience that exposes one to the peoples and culture of the countryside and their socio-economic realities. And so, after a long hiatus from road travels because of the state of insecurity on Nigeria’s highways and villages, I jumped at the offer of road trip from Abuja to destination Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross Rivers State in a security fortified convoy. The nine hours journey over a distance of about 450km saw us traversing one of Nigeria’s most important agricultural treasure bases between the fertile Guinea savannah region of Nassarawa and Benue states right into the rain forest zone of Cross River states.
As has been my experience in my several decades of road travels through hinterlands of the country, Nigeria’s massive agricultural belt, which is estimated to be about 34 million hectares representing 37% of Nigeria’s total land mass of 92 million hectares is sad story of a locked agro-economic potential that is wasting away because of under investments. Between Benue state, reputed to be Nigeria’s food basket and Cross River state, which is sitting on one of the most fertile of Nigeria’s arable land, I saw heaps of food produce ranging from root crops to legumes and fruits to vegetables rotting away due to a lack of preservation, processing, packaging and logistics facilities to move them from farmsteads to designated markets.
Farm produce like yams, potatoes, oranges, mangoes, bananas, plantains and many others a left to waste after harvesting and to salvage whatever they can from their year round labour of clearing, planting and nurturing their food crops, farmers are forced to sell them at low prices because if travellers like me don’t buy they will go waste hours later. This is the same story across Nigeria’s rural farming communities from east to west and north to south. This sad situation has left the bulk of Nigeria’s rural farming communities, impoverished and economically disempowered, which is a major disincentive against the cultural occupation of farming in Nigeria, particularly among the youths, who are now increasingly drawn to the urban areas in search of better jobs.
And this is why despite Nigeria’s huge agricultural potentials, which includes vast arable lands that are fertile and made conducive for farming by mild weather conditions Nigeria is suffering from acute food insecurity as it is unable to feed its 200 million people from its 34 million hectares of arable land. In a report processed in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 19.4 million people in Nigeria will face food crisis in 2022, due to insecurity and disruption of farming activities in states such as Borno, Katsina, Kaduna, Benue and Zamfara. To overcome the effect of insecurity on Nigeria’s already depressed agricultural economy, the FAO urged government to allocate more funds into the design and implementation of a national food systems transformation action plan.
However, out of the nightmare that is Nigeria’s current food crisis, its dream of food security may just be realized sooner than later, thanks to the African Development Bank Group. Recall that at the Nigeria International Economic Partnership Forum side line event of the United Nations 77th General Assembly in New York, September 2022, Dr Akinwumi Adeshina, Nigeria’s former minister of agriculture and current President of the African Development Bank Group, pledged a commitment to help mobilize the much needed investments into Nigeria’s agricultural sector. According to Dr Adeshina, ‘’to help unlock its huge agricultural potential, the African Development Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the Islamic Development Bank have provided $ 540 million to develop Special Agro-industrial processing zones. This financing will boost food and agribusiness value chain across Nigeria and make Nigeria more competitive’’.
Fortunately, about a month later on the 24th day of October 2022, the African Development Bank Group in keeping faith with its earlier commitment led a consortium of international development partners to launch the Nigerian Agro-industrial Processing Zones [SAPZ]. A government enabled and a private sector led initiative that seeks to mobilize private capital to develop value chains crops and livestock production in some selected states in Nigeria in the first phase. A total amount of $538.50 million has been mobilized for the first phase out of which the African Development Bank is providing the sum of $ 210 million, while the International Fund for Agricultural Development along with Green Climate Fund are providing the combined sum of $160 million. The Islamic Development Bank is to provide $150.52 million, the federal government of Nigeria, $2.01 million and the participating states are to provide their counterpart fund of $16.01 million.
The Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones [SAPZ] is a flagship programme under its Feed Africa Strategy, with an objective to extend agro-economic infrastructure in high potential rural agrarian communities, mobilize Public/Private investments in order to spur socio-economic development along Africa’s agricultural zones. AFDB’s SAPZ is a game changing programme that will enable farmers and livestock keepers, agricultural producers, processors, aggregators and distributors to work together in one location in order to lower cost with an enhanced value chain that increases productivity as well as competitiveness.
The AfDB is currently developing SAPZs in 18 Regional Member Countries across the continent with eleven projects already under implementation in Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Madagascar, Senegal and Togo. Others are Liberia, DRC, Mozambique and recently Nigeria. In Nigeria, the seven participating states in the first phase of the SAPZ programme include, Cross Rivers, Imo, Kano, Kaduna, Kwara, Ogun, Oyo and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. The expected outputs of the Phase 1 of Nigeria’s SAPZ programme are development of infrastructure for eight agro-industrial processing hubs, 15 agricultural transformation centres, thousands of hectares of irrigated lands and the all-important farm to market access roads.
The high powered government delegation at the launch of Nigeria SAPZ, which included the ministers of finance, trade and investment, agriculture and rural development as well as state governors, is a clear indication that the government of Nigeria is a willing partner in this voyage of agropreneural progress with AfDB. But this willingness must be matched with a readiness for serious business with Nigeria’s development partners beginning with the federal and state governments making available their counterpart funding for the SAPZ project. And the implementation of the SAPZ project in Nigeria must be guided by economic common sense and insulated against the vagaries of patronage seeking political predators. Time is running out and Nigeria must sieze the opportunity of this AFDB life line to permanently solve its problems of perennial food insecurity once and for all.