To Mr Samuel Ortom, Governer of Benue State, Nigeria, from Adiya Atuluku
Dear Gov. Ortom,
As a Benue citizen, I am writing this letter in concern for the economy of Benue State and ultimately, of Nigeria as a whole. Benue is a land of rich resources, both human and natural, but it is unfortunate that the great State is yet to live up to its potential.
I believe that Benue can still do this though, by providing incentives to attract agricultural investments from both corporations and agriculture technology (agtech) start-ups, while upskilling its youth to contribute to a ‘new and improved’ sustainable agricultural economy.
Benue’s human resources is one of its strengths! With a population of almost 5 million people, almost evenly split between male (50.4%) and female (49.6%), and 51% within working age (15 – 64 years), there is so much we can accomplish! Youthful energy abounds – or should abound. This should be harnessed to increase revenue generation of the state while uplifting these population’s standard of living.
The second key strength of Benue is its substantial agricultural potential. The State was once affectionately known as the ‘Food Basket of the Nation’ because of its rich produce. Yam, Cassava, Maize, Groundnut, Soybeans, and many others – Benue is certainly able to feed the whole of Nigeria if we get agriculture right.
Can you imagine the explosion of development and standard of living that would happen if we put these two strengths together? In doing so, we could provide gainful employment to our youth, increase our internally generated revenue, increase our profile, reputation and our influence with the federal government, provide a leading practice where other governments learn from us, and ultimately, create a better and more productive Benue for the 46% under 14 years that represent the Benue of tomorrow.
How can we achieve this this? Here are four recommendations that can get us started:
Provide tax incentives to attract investment to agriculture in the state: The government has to actively, and seriously, attract agricultural investment into the State. This can take a two-pronged approach that targets two kinds of private businesses – corporate FMCGs such as Flour Mills and Dangote, and rising AgriTech and agric crowdfunding start-ups such as FarmCrowdy, Thrive Agric, Farm Café and Kerekusk Rice (there has been an unprecedented rise of firms in this area over the last three years). For both categories of business, different incentives would work differently. For corporations, tax breaks have been a tried and proven incentive (with evidence showing that heavy tax is always a disincentive for new investments). And for the start ups, although new ones have recently been given tax breaks by the Federal government, Benue’s investment in extending this break will go even further for these start-ups trying to keep costs low. In addition, arrangements can be made with corporations to contribute to utility (e.g. electricity) and road development, in exchange of incentives that would lower their long-term costs.
Make business registration application times extremely short to encourage investors
Another key incentive is to make application times extremely short – whether it’s applications for license to operate, for land allocation or anything else that needs a government approval. Getting all relevant commissions on board to institute short (meaning no more than three weeks) application processing times is critical. This also means that measures for monitoring must be put in place (e.g. clearly communicating where applicants can go if they are being frustrated and publicly, as well as speedily, acting on complaints). Benue can be known as the land where agritech founders and investors go to first because it’s so easy and transparent to do business.
Collaborating with public sector to market to, and upskill youth in sustainable agricultural practices: There is no point having a large youthful population if they can’t be productive. And to be productive, they have to learn a skill. Agriculture can be well marketed to show that it is not a dead end occupation for elders, but rather a fruitful and bountiful profession that can take a young person places. This is also why it is crucial to attract the agritech start ups I mentioned above – cause these companies come with a different model that is based on technology. This bid to attract youth to agriculture is the first step. The next step is to make it easy for them to learn and be upskilled, and not just in the way elders have done it before, but in a new sustainable way that can increase yield while using natural resources responsibly. This is also an endeavor that international development organizations would be eager to contribute – organizations such as the World Bank, United Nations Development Fund, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Institute for Sustainable Development, and many others.
In conclusion, undoubtedly, all of these recommendations would require investments by Benue state. These are investments that will pay off in the medium to long term. For example, increased employment of youth in Agriculture would mean increased disposable income used for buying and selling (meaning increased VAT); increased production and sales of commodities would mean increased tax income from those commodities; influx of agricultural businesses would mean increased company tax three years and more down the road. Additional revenue could even come from increased purchase of business licenses, and payments for bills provided by the government e.g. utilities (electricity, water, waste collection), etc.
I acknowledge that these recommendations are easier said than done. But with the right political will, it is possible to start rebuilding a Benue State that is thriving, productive and a clear powerhouse in Nigeria.
12 April, 2020