Ehingbeti 2014: How to power Lagos economy for food sufficiency

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By Olasunkanmi Akoni
With over 20 million mouths to feed everyday and food being one of the first essential needs of every human being, Lagos State Government saw the need to exploit and optimise its agricultural potential to meet its target on food security, reduce food importation and stem the shortage in global food production which is rested on the strategy of guaranteed adequate electric power.

Indeed, taking steps to meet the ever increasing food demand of the state’s large population is in the front burner. As the mainstay of the economy with elastic growth opportunities, the agriculture sector, when fully developed is capable of guaranteeing continuous food security in Lagos, one of the world’s fastest growing megacities.

 Tomatoes: One of the scarce food items .

Tomatoes: One of the scarce food items .

And certainly, adequate power generation and distribution is a sine qua non to impacting the entire agriculture value chain: pre-production, production, harvesting, processing and packaging, storage, distribution, supporting technology and marketing.

At the recent seventh Lagos Economic Summit (Ehingbeti 2014), held on April 8 to 10, stakeholders across the public and private sectors converged to galvanise ideas on how the state government could leverage power efficiency to bolster its current food production capacity. The summit which theme was Powering the Lagos Economy: Real Opportunities, Endless Possibilities, principally targeted power efficiency and its multiplier effects on some key sectors namely agriculture, transportation and housing.

The stakeholders among whom were agriculture experts, policy makers and players in the power, oil and gas, housing, transportation and industrial sectors of the economy, also reasoned that adequate electricity would help to empower farmers through the deployment of mechanised farming methodologies, increase the participation of more small and medium entrepreneurs in the sector, expand market accessibility as well as help to curb wastage of agriculture produce.

Harping on the summit theme, Governor Babatunde Fashola said the state government was leveraging the power challenge as an opportunity to attract perceptive investors and financiers who could smell the huge potential in the sector.

He informed that the investment opportunities in the state power sector based on the outcome of the power audit conducted by the state government, include: the demand for 7,241Megawatts, MW, to power homes; 2,350MW for commercial activities and 660MW for the industrial sector.

Beside, additional megawatts are also required to bolster the cultivation, processing and storage of food, integrated public transportation and affordable mass housing. Also covered is the need to achieve uninterrupted 24-hour electric power supply to strategic public institutions such as hospitals, courts, police formations, water supply, waste management, light rail and street lights among others.

Fashola described power as the enabler and catalyst for other sectors of the Lagos economy, revealing that there was a wide gap between power demand and supply in the state.

According to him, the current power delivery to the state was below 1000MW per day as against 10,251MW needed to cater for both commercial and domestic needs of the over 20 million residents.

He said that in order to be able to respond positively to the social and infrastructural needs of its large population and fast-paced mass urbanisation, the state government targets an increased power supply of 15,000MW by 2025.

Fashola, while listing the achievements of the various agriculture development initiatives of the state government said they increased production of poultry products, cassava, rice, fishes and employment of young graduates.

But the need for increased food production was a strong issue stakeholders including the governor took time to discuss and proffer solutions. The concern was borne out of the concern that Nigeria has remained a net importer of food despite the fact that its agriculture sector contributes about 75 per cent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP. Secondly, land and water which are major inputs in agriculture are also depleting due to climate change. Thirdly, huge chunk of locally cultivated food items is also being wasted owing to inadequate electricity to processing and storage facilities.

For example, the Director, Food Sector for Sealed Air Africa, Kenya, Mr. Alex Munyao, lamented that Nigeria ranked high among the world’s food importing countries with about 2.2 million metric tonnes of rice being imported yearly, half of which was consumed in Lagos alone. He also said that power remained the biggest impediment to the growth of agriculture in the state, a development that has caused a huge rise in the cost of agriculture produce.

The expert said that an average Nigerian spent between 50 and 70 percent of his or her income on food alone while the remaining 30 per cent was being competed for by health and other needs. “Improved power is one of the ways to achieve all-year-round availability of food for the teeming population of the state.”

To this end, Munyao suggested fiscal and market policy reforms and financing innovations to fast-track the start-up of new electricity ventures, increased funding for rural-electrification programmes, long term investment in electricity assets like transmission lines and local distribution networks, and enhanced maintenance of power infrastructure as laudable steps that should be taken to ensure food security in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole.

Quoting the projection of a continued increase in the state population by the World Health Organisation, WHO, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s, FAO, advisory for a corresponding increase in food production, the state Commissioner for Agriculture and Cooperatives, Gbolahan Lawal, said the reason government was making efforts to boost power supply to the state was to ensure food availability at affordable prices for Lagosians.

Lawal said: “Although the state produced 10 per cent of its food need, government’s target is to increase it to 25 per cent by 2018. “Electricity is very crucial in the hatchery sub sector of the poultry industry in Lagos State. It will reduce the cost of production of day-old chicks by about 50 per cent which will invariably reduce the cost of producing broilers, cockerel as a result of economies of scale due to expansion of operations. The attendant market prices of these products will also reduce substantially”.

Lawal said further that with improved power, there would be significant increase in capacity utilization and output, revealing that the state poultry facilities alone were expected to increase by 30 per cent in the first year and over 75 per cent in the third year aside the multiplier effect on farmers in the private sector. According to him, operations like feather plucking, digital scale weighing, chilling and cooling were 100 per cent dependent on electricity but inadequate power has made most processing facilities in the state to be operating at less than 15 per cent capacity due to high cost of diesel.

Other areas are rice cultivation which requires irrigation, stressing that the high cost of powering irrigation facilities with generating sets has adversely affected the cost of production and milling thereby resulting in high cost of locally-produced rice in the market.

He said the availability of power would not only enhance rice production twice in the year, but would also result in almost 100 per cent yield and a further increase in production from the present two to three metric tonnes per hectare to between four and five metric tonnes per hectare in the first year of intervention.

The commissioner added that electricity was a key factor for rice parboiling, drying, de-stoning, milling, processing and packaging. Hence, adequate power was capable of guaranteeing all-year availability of quality locally-produced rice. “It will trigger the cultivation of rice from the present figure of about 1000 Ha to over 3000 Ha in the next few years of intervention. More jobs will be also created”, he stressed.

For the cassava value chain, Lawal maintained that improved electricity would impact on the processing of cassava to flour, starch and other by-products, enhance further production of cassava to meet high demands as well as engender sustainable industrial growth especially for secondary up takers.

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