Harvest time for Bagudu’s tomatoes, by Bolaji Adebiyi  

The 1,500-hectare tomatoes farm and processing factory the former governor facilitated a couple of years ago has begun to bear fruit, writes Bolaji Adebiyi  

Abubakar Bagudu, who now heads the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning, has a flair for agriculture not only because he thinks it’s a sure way to enhance the food security of the nation but also because it can economically empower the vast majority of the people. As a two-term governor of Kebbi State, he walked the talk, facilitating the cultivation of large expanses of land, which have yielded millions of tonnes of rice, one of Nigeria’s staple foods.

Believing in creating a society with income, Bagudu thought agriculture, which has the capacity to engage a lot of people was the surest way to achieve the state he envisioned. With the massive shortfall in supply for domestic consumption, Rice cultivation was bound to be an instant hit that beckoned. Under his watch, therefore, Kebbi would become the rice capital of the federation. Kicking off with the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, under its development finance function, an initial 70,000 farmers cultivated 70,000 hectares of land. At inception in 2016, 1.5 metric tonnes were harvested. This rose by 150 per cent to 3.5 metric tonnes in 2017. Thanks to the N12.8 billion loan that was accessed by Kebbi farmers.

Within three years, rice cultivation had become phenomenal as 400,000 hectares of the staple grain had been cultivated by 200,000 farmers across 15 of the 21 local government areas of the North-West state. People soon began to talk about the Kebbi Rice Revolution, which output had netted over 4 million tonnes annually by 2023. No wonder, over five high-impact mills, including Wacot, Olam, Umza, Labana and Dandi with combined installed capacity in the neighbourhood of 200,000 metric tonnes, sprang up in the state. The cumulative workforce among the millers is put around 5,000.

Bagudu’s agrarian Kebbi was not all about rice, though. By 2018, 47,000 hectares of cassava had been planted to serve as primary material for the ethanol industry. He also facilitated bee farming as well as fishing given the 300km a piece stretch of Rivers Niger and Rima through the state. “I look forward to seeing fish Kebbi State in Japanese restaurants,” he had said in 2016. The more ambitious push, however, was tomato cultivation.

In 2016, the former governor began talks with a Spanish multinational group, GB Foods Africa, for the establishment of a tomato plantation and processing factory. The farm and the factory were projected to engage 1,000 workers and upon completion expected to help Nigeria reduce its’s dependence on tomatoes paste import. After the signing of an MOU, the company commenced construction of its underground irrigation facility for the plantation and importation of machinery for the factory a year later. In 2020 the company announced the completion of its factory and began the harvesting of tomatoes as well as the production of concentrates.

But it was not until last Friday that the N20 billion largest single tomatoes farm as well as the second biggest processing factory in Nigeria was formally unveiled by President Bola Tinubu. Represented by the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Senator Abubakar Kyari, it was an opportunity for the president to reassure Nigerians that no efforts would be spared to ensure food security in the country. Coming against the background of prevailing headwinds, the inauguration of the tomato processing factory was an affirmation of foreign investors’ confidence in the economy.

“This is the second time I’m coming to Kebbi State in a little over a month. First, I visited a rice mill, the largest in West Africa, and today I’m visiting the largest tomato factory in Africa, all in Kebbi State,” Kyari said, noting, “This is a sign that there is confidence in Nigeria, under the able leadership of President Tinubu, for foreign investors to come and invest.”

Kyari’s claim got massive endorsement from Vincent Egbe, the country manager of GB Foods Africa, who said, “We are fully committed to long-term investment across the entire agricultural value chain in alignment with the federal government’s quest for employment and, most significantly, ensure food security across the country.”

More telling were the comments of Muhammed Idris, minster of Information and National Orientation, who was happy to note that in spite of the gloomy pictures being painted, good things were still happening in Nigeria, urging the media to pay more attention to the positive outcomes of the ongoing economic reforms of the federal government.

“For those who say that it’s only bad stories coming out of Nigeria, this is a very good story to tell. At a time when the media is saying all foreigners, all investors are leaving the country, GB Foods is investing more and more here,” he stated. Idris said the project demonstrated the potential of collaboration between the federal and state governments, adding that it also showed the positive effect of a harmonious relationship between a governor and their predecessor.

Bagudu must have felt fulfilled by the soothing statements from his colleagues, which showed that not only were his legacies enduring but also that they were showcasing the resilience of the Nigerian economy and the increasing foreign investors’ confidence in it.

Situated in Gafara, a sleepy town in Ngaski Local Government Area of Kebbi State, both the plantation and the processing factory stand on 1,500 hectares, half of which was used to cultivate tomatoes, while the other half has soyabeans. The factory produces 650 tonnes of concentrate daily, employing 2,000 workers, 75 per cent of whom are women. In addition, 5,000 outgrowers have been trained and given improved seedlings by the company. Currently, in its first phase of development, the culinary concern projects to double these figures on completion of the project that has given life to Bagudu’s vision of facilitating poverty reduction through empowerment programmes that secure sustainable income.

Adebiyi, is media assistant to the Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, Senator Abubakar Bagudu

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