Industrial use of cassava, eggs take off will end glut – Akin Olotu
The present administration in Ondo State has unarguably opened a new chapter in the history of the state agricultural sector going by its aggressive efforts in tomato, cocoa, palm trees plantation, the Sunshine Rice, establishment of the biggest Ethanol Plant in the country in partnership with the NNPC to use 500 tonnes of cassava daily, the powder egg plant to mop up one million eggs daily and her latest advocacy on regulated cannabis cultivation with 157billion dollars in the market to grab, among others. The Senior Special Assistant to the State Governor on Agric and Agro-Business, Pastor Akin Olotu shares his views on these developments in this interview with THE HOPE Line Editors.
Recently you were on a visit with the Governor abroad to see how the agric potentials of Ondo state could be harnessed for industrialization, how far has this government gone in harnessing and marketing the agricultural potentials of the state?
Ondo state is a blessed state no doubt about that. l do know that what industries are to some states in the country I believe that is what agriculture or agro-business should be to Ondo state. People are of the opinion that Ondo state is the richest state in the country when you look at the mineral resources, when you look at the vegetation from one zone to another. When you look at the location of the state.
Also, emphasis in the time past had been on production. If you take cassava for instance, you will discover that there is a cyclical fluctuation in the production of cassava and why, it is not because the land is not there, it is not because people didn’t want to plant cassava but it has been largely tied to domestic consumption; gaari, pupuru. So, in a particular year where you have abundance, where supply overwhelmingly outweighed demand, the price will crash and farmers will run away.
Now, one of the major decisions this administration took was that there must be industrial utilisation. We must look at the processing end and, value addition.
Agriculture must be market driven and value must be added, every of those links on the value chain of every agricultural commodity must be adequately attended to and attending to those links.
It means it will create jobs, you create business opportunities and when the links are properly harnessed, it means production will be continuous because when you talk about food security, food security stands on a tripod, now the FAO has added another one, that food availability at all times, food affordability or accessibility at all times.
Back to the cassava, cassava today you will agree with me we are already having the biggest ethanol plant in the country, it is at Omotoso, the capacity is 500tonnes on daily basis. We are working with NNPC. When the administration of Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu came into office, we combed books, we went into records and we discovered that there was an arrangement with the NNPC on the Okeluse ethanol plant which was abandoned for almost ten years. It was revisited, we signed an MoU with NNPC and today there are five states that are participating in the ethanol project of the Federal Government.
You know we are now talking about renewable energy, the idea is that we have to blend ethanol with fossil fuel which we are using and NNPC is going to be the off taker and what is going to come out from it is the B10 and the B20. The B10 means that there is going to be 10 percent inclusion of ethanol in the fossil fuel. The B20 is 20percent inclusion so by and large with NNPC as the offtaker, Mr Governor has taken a very bold step. The survey of 15,000hectares of land, you know what the cost of survey is, Mr Governor has said go ahead and it has been done as I am talking to you. So we’ve turned over the paper to NNPC The last time we met in Abuja I think Ondo state is number one, out of the five states when it comes to the level of preparedness and late last year the president was to come here for the flag off, but I am sure this year very soon because I am sure the flag off of the project nationwide will take place in Ondo state at Okeluse we are still working on it. I cannot say the time precisely because it is outside our control. So but we are meeting with NNPC so you will agree with me that by the time these two ethanol projects are fully ongoing there will be scarcity of cassava in the state, nobody will ever produce cassava again and say I don’t have anywhere to sell. That is to say the government has encourage industrial utilisation of cassava and that will pose serious challenge to the production of gaari and other things, it means more people will have to go into cassava production even if you have a 4 by 4meter space in your office, you can put cassava in it.
Our own projection about Okeluse is that about 250,000 jobs will be created but when we get to Abuja, the NNPC said their own projection is about a million jobs in Ondo state that will be created.
The implication of that is this, it is not going to be direct only it is going to be both direct and indirect people transporting will have a hell of job to do, haulage of product housing, hospitality business, hotels in the state, people cooking food, they will go there. So it is a solid foundation that has been laid by Arakunrin Akeredolu for cassava production in ondo state that is incontrovertible and if not for BEDC, you go to Omotosho now, the plant is already receiving chips, the dry ones there is no volume that you take there that they will not buy from you. The plant has been built, it has been completed, ready. It is just national grid connection that is the issue now once that is out of it, the place is in operation so by the time the connection is done, they will be accepting raw tubers.
Can we talk about rice?
Yes before we go to rice let me say something about the egg powder factory. We identified that there is no year we don’t have egg glut and Nigeria is still importing egg powder so which means there is also market for egg powder in the country, if we put our house in order. To Mr Governor, what he did is ok simply how do we mop up eggs in circulation, how do we create more employment opportunities for our young ones that are into poultry business? So that was how we conceived the idea of having an egg powder factory which CBN bought into. But along the line there were issues, teething challenges and Mr governor insisted that he can not betray the people of his state, he was elected to serve them, he said we have to cross every Ts and dot every is in favour of the state in the course of implementation of that project and I am glad, if you were there when Providus Bank office was declared open last week, he did mention it that the company will soon start. Basic infrastructral facilities have been provided there, the road network, the drainage, everything. They will just bring those things, clamp them down there, it is not something that is going to take too long period and that alone using 1million eggs on daily basis means more people will be engaged in the poultry sector and as I am talking to you, we will bring farmers together.
You mentioned rice?
You will equally agree with me that different administrations in this state came up with different rice agenda. Ondo state Thailand rice. I am not castigating anybody but the best you could see was on vehicle “Ondo state Thailand rice project. Another time, the Malaysians came here. When they were here, they did a lot of things, we did not see anything coming.” So thank God for FADAMA, the World Bank programme and thank God for Mr Governor, Arakunrin Akeredolu, because when he came in, he spoke to me, he paid the counterpart fund for the state despite the lean purse and in our discussion we said oga, it is possible, let us look at this rice value chains and he said go ahead and our proposal to the World Bank was that we have some farmers planting rice in this state. In 2011, personally as the Chairman of Ondo State FADAMA Federated Farmers Community Association, I was moving round the state and I discovered that the rice produced by our farmers were being taken to Edo state for processing so I brought the information to the governor, we were not in the office then but that was my observation then, he said what do we do and I said let’s partner with FADAMA, let us have a small mill, let us go the Awo way, let us use the Obafemi Awolowo method.
We looked at the community where a particular crop is common what he will do is put a processing mill/factory in that place that will be available and accessible to farmers in that environment that is value addition, that is a way of encouraging processing. So I said Ogbese, we have a lot of FADAMA rice farmers there, what we are going to do is to train them. Let us upgrade their knowledge, let’s build their capacity which is what we did and authoritatively as I am saying today their yield went from 2.3metric tonnes to as far as 8 tonnes per hectare. Why, simple agronomy practices. Do it this way, do it that way, have the correct seed do it at the appropriate time. that is it, as I am talking to you today we are having more rice farmers in the state . In Alayere, what we did, Mr Governor was able to secure two mills for us from Abuja we got one from FADAMA so we have three there.
There is a particular location in the northern senatorial district where the government has acquired 10,000 hectares now, if you go there now presently we are working. Uso, we are working on the place, already ploughing, harrowing is going on there and in the next couple of days Mr Governor will flag off the rice planting season this year, we are expecting people from IITA to partner with our rice framers and only last week too one FADAMA groups that have been very consistent in rice cultivation, that is EMMANUEL group, Aule, we empowered them, gave them money, seed, agro chemical so that they can work adequately.
Now let us talk about the medical cannabis
Yes, you know my position, I wrote something online, the interview CCTV conducted, the comment somebody made, he said a pastor that is preaching the use of cannabis and I said excellent, the Bible tells me that everything that the God Almighty created is for good purpose. God did not create anything to destroy us and immediately what came to me was the case of the mad man of Gadara he was created to be an Evangelist, he was not created to be a madman but if the mad man is still roaming the street may be occasionally he could say somethings that will win the soul of somebody who could think if a madman is saying this, well, it means I should believe in God oh but he was confined to the tomb, will he evangelise people in the grave that would have been the end of the story. People did not know that he was having a glorious destiny. Cannabis is one of the few commodities that the deposit of God in it seems to be incomparable, Cannabis, we were reliably told could be used to treat about 71 serious ailments. Cannabis oil goes for between 10 to 15 dollars per litre in the market. It is the most expensive oil in the universe may be anointing oil for pastors. But if you look at other form of oil, cannabis oil is the most expensive, if you look at ration for snail, add cannabis to the ration of your snail you will see wonders. zeisure, epilepsy cannabis, Diabetes, cannabis .just mention it cancer cannabis oil, in fact, I have received the greatest response from the United State of America. People called, sent messages, my whatsapp on daily basis. In fact somebody in Atlanta went to a pharmaceutical shop in Atlanta, gathered all the drugs that are cannabis based and he took the photograph and said this is about the most popular pharmacy in Atlanta, he said these are all cannabis drugs.
Is it certain percentage of cannabis?
Some are almost 100percent but some they added coconut oil and other ingredients. Even for patches, there are some people that can not take drug because of their condition maybe if they are having pains somewhere they use it as patches on that pain, the pain will subside, they use it as sedative we are talking about medical cannabis that is its medical value. Somebody came from Canada, when he saw what is going on here concerning cannabis and he was able to gather that ondo state is the largest producer in Africa, he came with a proposal. What we are preaching is restricted cultivation. Cannabis we are not happy with the way our forest is being plundered and we are convinced that with this restricted approach when people cultivating it see that the way it is being done somewhere else that it is attracting money because if you can sell somewhere and have like 5 dollars per kilogram you will not want to take it to joint where somebody will pay you fifty naira which means if we pursue this agenda adequately I mean conscientiously it means cannabis will become scarce in the local market because if you know that you can sell something some where at a very good price and all you need to is to change your pattern of cultivation you will not want to continue to take it to where they will take it for fifty naira. When we evaluate the whole thing thank God the governor was able to take the decision but if we look at the response now, people are beginning to understand the rationale behind the decision, It has not been legalized. We are conscious of the Geneva convention of 1961 but we are all signatories to it, I went to a pharmaceutical industry in Lagos there I was able to pick seven drugs with CBD and the least is N18,000, the products were being produced in United States of American, some United Kingdom and we all signed the
Geneva 1961 convention.
But the problem is that it seems a lot of people are uneducated about this idea?
Yes I agree with you, when somebody mentioned the issue of pastor preaching the use of cannabis, I said okay let all our bishops, let all our General Overseers go and check their wives’ hair creams, it is there 90percent.
If a government could encourage control cultivation of cannabis, are we not licensing people to use it?
No, look at what happened in Thailand, you know the NDLEA chairman went with us, in fact three states were to go, two ran away ,so when we were in Thailand ,there is a particular region in Thailand that was devastated because of cultivation of opium and things like that, but today it is one of the best regions in Thailand, the NDLEA chairman made it clear that even United Nation has written to commend the organisation handling that area, why, what happen the way our forest is being plundered today is the way they plundered that forest over there and the women there are almost 100percent prostitutes, the men there were militia men. In fact they now have a triangle there it is a library they call opium triangle so that the young generation, people of today will know that, that region was almost completely destroyed in the time past. This is the model we are looking at, it is similar to what they did there, Now they have there forest back now, there people are gainfully engaged in production, sustainable venture. It is going to be available as I have explained earlier on, ours is restricted, then no 2 we are in a nation that is I am sorry but that is just the truth where deceitfulness holds sway. This nation it is like a woman who is in love with someone, the person will come to her, she said no she is not interested, when that person leaves, she goes inside and be sobbing and said I pray oh God let him come back tomorrow why don’t you tell him that truly this is what is in my mind. It is not this government which is barely two years in office that made Ondo state the largest producer of cannabis in Africa. Are we shying away from the fact that it is being largely cultivated in this state, are we shying away from the fact that enforcement has failed. I have a lot of facts to show that enforcement has failed. In most cases, when you see people on the road looking they are just counting bags,there has been an arrangement that we have two thousand bags that we are taking to the market okay, the man you see in uniform on the road is just counting the number of bags and the moment the number they told them is complete anyone coming is illegal.
But how will the government allay the fear of the people that things will not degenerate to people capitalising on it and misuse it?
No it told you it is restricted or controlled? The control is, you know the way they do their things overseas you can not just produce anything and people will take it from you. There is agronomy practices that will not be compromised, you will not use chemical anyhow. They will not allow someone to plant here and another plant there, the particular strain that they want is what they will take. The particular strain they want in its pure form. What we have is cannabis sativa but it is not the way that is being cultivated locally. There is a way you handle the male flower the male flower has to be treated at a particular stage.
So if you don’t do it that way, by the time they do the test it will be obvious. So the point I am making is this, this method is the solution to the challenge of having cannabis in the open market. I have said it, people cultivating it are doing it for business, they want money, they are not doing it because they want somebody to run mad and if they know that okay this product I have a special market for it, they will surrender, they will not hide in the forest again, they will come out. We will not encourage the cultivation anyhow because it is going to be subjected to test, if the proposal sees the light of the day because it is not something we can do on our own, the cultivation will be under the NDLEA supervision the agronomy practices will be strictly abided with.
You see the market is becoming huge let me round off with this .Almost all the state in America now have legalized it. You will see it in pharmaceutical shops, even on the street you will see it there you can not access it without medical prescription. If you are cultivating Indian hemp in the jungle come out, we are not going to imprison you, we will give you two hectares here, they will leave the forest. Do you know that some of them sleep on the trees, they carry guns, they take a lot of risks and when confrontation comes occasionally, some of them lose their lives, so if you say come to the open, do the cultivation here, we are looking at it here and we guide them on what to do, at the end of the day I am 100percent sure that we will have fewer people in the forest and by the time the processing is done, when you get to Thailand, a whole government agency Government pharmaceutical organisation about six or seven storey building everything there, they are working day and night on medical cannabis .
Has the government done enough consultation, talking to the right people for example, the NDLEA boss openly disclaimed this trip?
Yes, he was there, he is afraid, he was with us, we are there for the three days if he denied it, let them go to the airport. He was with us, the state commander was with us.
Sir, what is the worth of the business world wide?
It is huge like I told you, you know because of the restriction here and there what country, what like I said a litre of cannabis oil goes between 10-15 its dollar’.
How many countries have embrace that idea?
Jamaica is doing very well Thailand, Canada and USA. Kenya is coming strongly some African countries are coming up strongly so its just a matter of time it was even in Thailand that we got to know that drug abuse in the country is more severe in south-eastern part of the country than in the North. They brought out data record from United Nations but our belief is that it is more in the North.
An international agency put the drug business from cannabis to about 157billion dollars can this be right?
I want to believe so. In Lagos, the pharmaceutical store that I said I went to, I mentioned one drug, they were not having that one they said they wanted to place order immediately but they brought seven others out, made in UK, USA cannabis oil base CBDTHS.
What is the state government doing in convincing the authority concerned in buying or keying into this business?
Well, I believe we have done our bit, it is just about education when you keep people informed, I know with time people will understand that the business is the best thing that could happen to the country. Like I said Nigeria thrive on deceit. You know the right thing you pretend as if that is not.
Probably for now, Ondo state government has handed off this campaign because of the backlashes?
Let me just say this on cocoa because that is our number one crop, Nigeria was number two in the world In those days, but our position now is between six and seven. What that implies is this if Ondo state is the leading in cocoa producing states in Nigeria, it means Ondo state is not just stagnating but retrogressing, that is the story about our cocoa before the coming on board of this administration. Let anybody say anything but that is the truth. So we designed an approach that will equally strengthen the cocoa value chain last year. For the first time in the history of this state and this country the governor gave out half a million cocoa seedlings free of charge. What that implies is this, assuming we have fifty percent surviver, it means accross the land of Ondo state today you have about 250,000 new cocoa trees that are coming up. In the next three years we will begin to see the impact. As it is today, we are still the leading and Crossriver is coming behind us and not just that our cocoa trees are the oldest. Cross river cocoa trees and some other states coming behind us, their cocoa trees are younger which means if we don’t rev up what we are doing right now they will overtake us and that is what Mr Governor is trying to do. If you look at the Oda Cocoa Board, from the paucity of fund that we have, I told the secretary of Cocoa Revolution Agency to put something there Cocoa Board established by Chief Obafemi Awolowo but rehabilitated by Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu. You need to see some of the buildings there today, I can show you the photographs, the place is gradually coming back to life. I discussed with NEXIM bank Managing Director, we are going to use PPP approach to stabilize the place in terms of product. We have entered into agreement with one of the leading cocoa merchants in the state. We are developing six thousand hectares together. It has been approved. We discussed it about two weeks ago. He is developing two thousand hectares for our young ones, we are already working together, the youths are already recruited, they will be trained shortly and another four thousand. It is going to be the largest single estate in the country. So it will take time bearing in mind the paucity of fund but I believe when the will is there, there will always be a way.
The chocolate factory after critical appraisal, we decided it has to go. Government will just keep twenty percent and as I am talking to you, we already have three prospective investors that bidded for the place, so the decision will be taken shortly.
If you look at what Baba Ajasin did, had it been we sustained it, Ondo state will be giving out loans to other states today. If Owena bank is still there, Owena, Union and First banks were going at almost the same pace. There was no GTB then, no Zenith Bank when Chief Adekunle Ajasin established Owena Bank but we lost it. We lost our Cooperative Bank, we lost Nigerian Romanian Wood Industry. There is nothing like Oluwa Glass factory any longer. I was part of the team, The place was sold by one of the previous administrations, NIROWI, Ifon ceramic, Confidence Insurance, Ire bricks are all gone.
Okitipupa Oil Palm used to be the largest in West Africa but the place is in shambles. Thank God, the legal wahala on it, the governor has resolved. Now the place is progressing. We made a proposal to CBN some months ago, about three weeks ago, they wrote back to the governor they are going to do it for him. A hundred thousand hectares of oil palm, it is huge and they said give us the land. Within four days, he wrote back to them this is where we have those lands that we are going to use. In fact this morning, it was CBN call that woke me up. One of their officers here, he said we have to go on inspection on Thursday and the report must be back to Abuja on Friday because the people are ready. You know the governor has the vision of having an oil palm city, he mentioned it when he came and if you have that, forget, subsequent administrations will have no business with Abuja just like the Lagos state governor. Mr prayer is that we will be able to sustain all these. Ondo state has no economy, we have wasted the years of abundance. The governor is just trying to lay a new foundation for us in the state and that is the area of our strength, once we build on it, the state will become a prosperous state.