Between 2015 and 2016, over 600 graduates in Ondo State have been empowered to start several businesses in agriculture sector, Nigerian Tribune’s Agriculture has learnt.
The graduates, who were trained in the best agricultural practices and agricultural business, were exposed to the entire value chain of agriculture, among which are: agricultural finance, supply of input, production, processing, preservation, marketing, distribution and others, Banjo Egunjobi, the Information Manager, Ondo State Wealth Creation Agency (WECA), said.
WECA is one of the agencies created to lead the state’s initiatives on agric development. Egunjobi, speaking at the weekend, said Mimiko, foreseeing challenges of food insecurity, unemployment and industrialisation of the state could only be tackled with diversification from oil to investment in agriculture, embarked on a “massive infrastructural development and capacity building in the agricultural sector.”
It will be recalled that the state governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, in 2014, inaugurated the first set of 280 young graduates through state’s Profarmers and Agropreneurs Sustainable Scheme (PASS), mandated to advance the course of wealth creation and youth development.
Egunjobi, speaking at the weekend in Ondo State, in an effort to provide technical support to the agency in the training of the Profarmers and Agropreneurs as well as upgrade the agro business cities to world class agricultural training centres, the state government entered into a partnership agreement with some renowned agricultural organizations such as International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), United State Agency for International Development (USAID) MARKET II, Foundation For Partnership Initiative in the Niger Delta (PIND), Federal College of Agriculture (FECA), Federal University of Agriculture (FUTA) among others.
The efforts of the state government, he said, had given these young graduates different skills to produce and package quality and indigenous agricultural products, which include poultry, fishery maize, cassava and cattle, among others.
“Having trained and exposed the young graduates to the modern methods of farming and agribusiness with a view to be self dependent and employers of labour, the state government is not unaware of the need to provide the take off fund for them to start their own ventures.
“It is on this that the state government recently disbursed soft loans to Profarmers who had completed their training program. The 400 graduates that were engaged between 2014 and 2015 were issued with certificate of completion out of which 70 were selected as the beneficiaries of about N25 million soft loans to support them.
“Each beneficiary received between N250,000 and N400,000 at a single interest rate of 2.5 per cent for a period of two years with a moratorium period of 6 months. Apart from the loan given to them, government also made available infrastructure facilities within the ABCs such as poultry pens, fish ponds of different sizes, dams, boreholes, hostel accommodation and others for use to alleviate their financial burden in the provision of such facilities to start their business,” Egunjobi said.
Over 2500 unemployed youths both skilled and unskilled have benefited from the program since 2011.
In achieving economic sustainability through agriculture, Mimiko restructured former Accelerated Poverty Alleviation Agency (APAA) and established Wealth Creation Agency (WECA) to look at how the state government could “identify, initiate and implement programs and projects that would generate employment, create wealth for the people, particularly from agriculture so as to guarantee food sufficient and youth development,” Egunjobi said.
According to him, “Ondo State is one of the most endowed states in the country in terms of favourable agro climate condition, abundance of natural and animal resource and intellectual human capacity. But despite the abundance of these resources and for so many years past, the state failed to take advantage of the opportunities to improve its economy and increase the living standard of her people.
“Worst still, is the fact that the greater percentage of its youths also failed to exploit the opportunities to be gainfully engaged in agriculture which could have been harnessed to transform the economic prosperity of the people.”
To lead the agency was Mrs Bolanle Olafunmiloye, who was appointed to look into best policies that would drive state’s agriculture development, Egunjobi said. Part of the agency’s assignment was re-modelling of the farm settlement concept introduced and practiced by the old Western Nigeria government under Pa Obafemi Awolowo to the modern Agro Business Cities (ABCs) concept, which led to the establishment of Ore Agro Business City in Odigbo Local Government area in the South Senatorial District, Epe Agro Business City in Ondo East Local Government Area in the Central Senatorial District, Isuada and Auga Agro Business Cities in Owo, and Akoko North East Local Government Areas respectively in the North Senatorial District.
“These Agro Business Cities have the ambience which attracts youths to be passionate and committed to learning modern agriculture. The ABCs are equipped with modern agricultural equipment and infrastructure such as hostel accommodations, recreational facilities and vast area of land for cultivation,” Egunjobi said, adding that the “rebranding drive was to provide better perception towards agriculture, expose many youths to limitless opportunities in the sector and to provide a new generation of farmers that will be self employ and employers of labour.”
The activities and achievements of the current administration in the area of youth in agriculture, wealth creation and employment for the youth through agriculture have attracted a lot of attention within and outside the state, Egunjobi said, adding that “the passion and commitment of the Governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko to the wealth creation initiative, the dedication and hardworking spirit of supervisory agency, WECA, the willingness and courage of the youths to embrace agriculture as well as collaboration with partners and other stakeholders all combined to make the initiative a huge success.
“Ondo State, the sunshine state in not only revealing in the euphoria of being on a fast lane to economic diversification but also proud of gainfully engaging youths in agribusiness which is a viable means of salvaging the nation, Nigeria from its present economic doldrums, it is committed to accelerating sustainable economic development of the people of the state through agriculture,” he said.