Reviving agriculture for food security, job creation in Ogun

It is an understatement that agriculture is the pivot of most economies. Aside from providing food and raw materials for industrial purposes, agriculture provides employment opportunities to a very large percentage of the population. Whatever side of the coin one considers, agriculture is intrinsically a sine qua non for nations’ economic growth.

Aside from the need for nations to inch up capacity to feed their teeming populations, there is a dire necessity for a paradigm shift in the consideration of governments towards rejiging the agric sector in Nigeria if the country would be in a position to survive the present economic challenges, occasioned by the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken a devastating toll on global economies. This belief has further been accentuated by the continual plummeting of oil prices in the global market with its devastating consequences on mono economies like ours.

Going by the crucial need for states to consolidate and complement concerted efforts in agricultural revolution, Ogun State has actually taken the gauntlet in this regards, especially since the assumption of the present administration of Prince Dapo Abiodun. It is noteworthy that the state has continued to take bold, systemic and strategic approach towards ensuring food security, job creation and agricultural industrialisation.

This policy direction could not have been better enunciated than in the words of the state Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Adeola Odedina, who noted recently that: “The ministry supports all actors in the agro food sector to ensure food security, job creation, agricultural industrialisation and prosperity.” He averred that efforts are also being geared towards encouraging and engaging the youth (which is a critical sub-set of the population) to take advantage of the various intervention programmes that will link them to land, credit facility, training and industrial opportunities, among others.

For instance, there had been great zeal and commitment of government towards the Federal Government’s Anchor Borrowers initiative aimed at boosting food production, create employment and  generating credit for burgeoning farmers as well as grow the economy. In Ogun State, as at today, up to 60, 000 registrations have been recorded in the various commodities including  rice, maize, cassava, cocoa, tomato, cotton, palm oil, poultry, fish and livestock/dairy products, earmarked to be produced. Under the programme, 25, 000 people registered for cassava cultivation alone, the highest ever recorded for any state; 3, 375 registered for rice; 9,875 for poultry, while 2,000 registered for cotton, among others. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which selected Ogun State as a model for cassava production did not make a wrong choice after all, given the unflinching commitment of the state government.

It is heartwarming that, so far, 6,000 farmers have been cleared by the apex bank after fulfilling all the necessary conditions with claim of farms authenticated, mapped and geo-tagged, hence the fields are ready for tilling and planting of improved and disease-resistant cassava varieties.  Out of these ABP nominees, 3, 500 have been credited with funds in the region of N700 million under the first phase of disbursement of funds to cassava farmers drawn from all 20 local government areas of the state. This paved the way for the flagging- off of the 2020 season and distribution of inputs including herbicides, fertilisers, bundles of improved cassava stems and other materials to the first batch of cassava value-chain beneficiaries.

To gravitate this programme, land clearing has commenced in 16 locations in all agricultural zones in the state and the plan is to clear 250,000 hectares of land for cassava plantation across the state. Already, over 50,000 hectares have been cleared at Apojula and Odeda farm institutes in Odeda Local Government Area; 200 hectares in Elemuren, Itoro, Yewa South  and 100 hectares in Abule Ojere in Obafemi Owode Local Government Area, among others. With this arrangement, an additional 2, 500 youths already registered for ABP would be linked to additional N530m by CBN with required farm inputs. According to Governor Abiodun, “The target of our administration is to produce enough food to attain nutritional self- sufficiency in the short term and over long term produce enough food for other states in the country for export.”

In a similar vein, the state Ministry of Agriculture, in collaboration with the state chapter of the  Cassava Growers Association, is set to train farmers to make them realise 20-25 tons of cassava per hectare as against the traditional 6-10 tons. To alleviate the challenges of getting markets for the produce, the government has continued to create markets for cassava growers through strategic linkages. One of such is the Premium Cassava Products (formerly Thai Farms) in Ososa, Odogbolu Local Government Area which deals in cassava processing. Another 175 hectare private cassava farm in Ilaro, Yewa North Local Government Area is also receiving technical backstopping from the government and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture,( IITA).

On rice production, 257 hectares is being cultivated for this purpose at Sowunmi Village in Mokoloki, Obafemi-Owode Local Government Area. Also, rice projects are on-going across eight local councils, including Obafemi-Owode, Yewa North, Yewa South, Ijebu North, Ijebu North-East, Odeda and Odogbolu. Rice farmers have also been provided with  necessary support in form of land clearing, provision of seeds, funding and input, while they are also linked to off-takers and processors.

According to Odedina, “Rice is a big business and this government has been actively involved at all phases, including land preparation, water supply, milling, packaging and marketing.” He also said government has continued to provide enabling environment for agro investors, especially in the rice value-chain to boost food security. “Over 50 private sector investments have responded to our call to participate in the agricultural industrialisation agenda of the state which links the Anchor Borrowers farmer to markets.” To buttress this assertion, an investor and Managing Director of Hyst Global Business Ltd, Mr Biodun Onalaja, said he had to relocate his rice mill factory from the northern part of the country to Ogun State in order to take advantage of government’s transformational initiatives in the sector. This was sequel to a letter he wrote to government to request for support and partnership in setting up a new rice mill for aggregation of farms for sustainable supply of paddy rice. Similarly, a sterilised milling machine of one tonne per hour donated by the Federal Government at Egua, in Yewa North Local Government Area, is expected to cater to the needs of the 900 hectares of rice farm being cultivated by over 1000 youths in the area.

Poultry farming also received a boost and generated employment opportunities for 54 young graduates who were trained to rear 1,000 day-old broilers each for six weeks at the end of which an average profit of N130, 000 was made by each of them. Life has returned to the moribund Odeda/Eweje Farm Institute with the continuation of the second phase of the 54,000 day-old broiler-chicks project which is expected to fetch each beneficiary a profit close to N200, 000, while the cycle is expected to produce over 11,000 kg of broiler meat by the end of May 2020.  This will no doubt reduce dependency on importation, while arrangement is on-going to replicate this project across the 20 local government areas of the state. A number of youths have keyed into the project as the 54 pilot beneficiaries will serve as ‘train-the-trainers’ for the 9000 youths already registered for the extension of the project.

Suffice it to state that the agricultural re-engineering initiatives by the Prince Abiodun administration has also raised the hopes of cotton farmers who had suffered serious setbacks in textile production in previous years, despite the single digit loan provided by the CBN. The state government has earmarked 10,000 hectares of land for cotton production with an advice to the state Cotton Growers Association to expedite action on the completion of their documentation with the CBN and other anchors for this year’s growing season under the state government-facilitated Anchor Borrowers programme. Cocoa farmers in the state are also solidly in the scheme of things to benefit from the various agricultural initiatives.

In terms of forging profitable synergies, the  Nigeria Competitiveness Project (NICOP), a regional intervention programme involving Ogun and Lagos states, in collaboration with the European Union (EU), is set to train 3,000 farmers on tomato, chilli, ginger, pepper, leather and garment value-chain, while the trainee-beneficiaries will also be linked with credit, land and off takers.

With the various agricultural policies put in place, it has come as cheery news that the African Development Bank (ADB) has rated Ogun State as number one in South-West to benefit from the Special Agro Processing Zone for aquaculture, industrial cassava and fishery hub, while the apex bank has given preference to the state in its oil palm extension programme. According to the Head of Development Finance of the bank, Dr (Mrs) Olukoya, in line with the bank’s policy on the development of expansion of oil palm across the country, the state aptly fits into the plan. To cap it all, the World Bank, through the state Economic Transformation Project (OGSTEP), also targets to empower 40,000 youths in agriculture. All these are commitments based on trust and confidence of those institutions in the present government of the state.

With the numerous agricultural strides being taken by Ogun State government, it is becoming crystal clear that the Prince Abiodun-led administration is poised to fulfill its mandate to make the state a food basket, by boosting agricultural produce which would also have spiral effect on food security, employment generation and industrialisation while at the same time helping to create the needed paradigm shift in the nation’s economic mainstay.

  • Onasanya is a director in the Ogun State Civil Service

 

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