The National Economic Council on Thursday announced plans to channel at least $1.52bn donor funds into 36 special agro-industrial processing zones across the nation, aiming to create over 18.1 million jobs, including 100,000 farmers nationwide. The first phase, which now runs in Kano, Kaduna, Kwara, Ogun, Oyo, Imo, Cross River states as well as the Federal Capital Territory, will gulp over $520m and is set to conclude by 2028. Twenty-six states have expressed interest in joining Phase II of the programme, where the $1bn funding from the AfDB and other partners will be channelled. The states will begin documentation for the second phase in early 2024. Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Abubakar Kyari, revealed this to State House Correspondents after the conclusion of the 137th National Economic Council meeting presided over by Vice-President Kashim Shettima at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, on Thursday. Kyari said the funds were earlier pledges by the African Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, who voted $1bn to deliver SAPZs in 24 states at the Norman Borlaug International Dialogue, World Food Prize 202, in Des Moines, Iowa, USA, in late October. This is aside from an initial $520m voted by the development partners for the same purpose. \u201cThe Vice President who attended the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, met with the president of the African Development Bank. Dr Adesina has already pledged $1bn to the second phase,\u201d said the minister. He noted that his ministry made a presentation to the council outlining the collaborative program with the African Development Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Islamic Development Bank, various state governments, and private investors. He explained, \u201cThe seven states are Kano, Kaduna, Kwara, Ogun, Oyo, Imo, and Cross River, and like I said, with the FCT being the eighth partner in this programme. \u201cThe quick wins here are that even in the stage of construction, you will have the opportunity for over 3,000 jobs. \u201cAnd at the end of the construction, opportunities will be for almost 500,000 jobs on each zone that is for each state and then also to support about 100,000 farmers.\u201d The minister described the SAPZs as a cross-cutting initiative and platform to attract private sector investment, add value to Nigeria\u2019s agro-processing, and unlock opportunities for improved food security and job creation. He revealed that the programme, which commenced in 2022, saw the active participation of seven states and the Federal Capital Territory, even as the zones would not only serve as production sites \u201cbut also hubs for aggregation and processing of agricultural produce.\u201d The programme has earmarked approximately $530m for the first phase, aiming to establish clusters of agricultural production and significantly reduce post-harvest losses, the former lawmaker noted. \u201cFor instance, Kano has keyed in to do a lot of tomatoes in this zone. And we know that tomato losses run to almost 50 to 60 per cent. It is unacceptable in today\u2019s agricultural sector,\u201d the minister pointed out. On Phase II, Kyari said, \u201cWe have already received expressions of interest from about 26 states so far. The second phase is supposed to start next year. This first phase will last for five years. And the documentation for Phase Two will begin by next year. \u201cThere are only three states (Abia, Adamawa, and Yobe) that have not expressed interest. But as we were leaving here, one (Abia State) had already signified and are working on sending the expression of interest.\u201d The council also acknowledged the leading role of Ogun State in the development of these zones. Kyari said despite Ogun\u2019s delay in signing the Subsidiary Loan Agreement, a commitment was recently secured from the state government to sign it promptly. To further expedite the initiative, the council approved \u201cthe accelerated transmission of the official documents to funders by the Federal Ministry of Finance\u201d and granted a waiver from the same ministry for the payment of performance allowance to project staff by the funders as requested by the executing agency to \u201cavoid project implementation risks.\u201d The NEC called for \u201ca lot of enthusiasm from state governors to participate and key into\u201d the project, which it said would drive significant economic growth through job creation and modernised agricultural practices.