By Kayode Crown
A major stakeholder in any community is the farmer. It does not matter how advanced the society is, they cannot be so advanced that they do not need to eat to stay alive, active and healthy to contribute their quota to societal development.
People eat everyday. The natural hunger in man makes the issue of food of prime importance and any government that is worth its salt would go all out to aid farmers, removing impediments along their way to success.
And not only that, agriculture is a foreign income earner and a source of employment generation, capable of mopping up the army of unemployed youths in the state.
It used to be the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, and each region, all agriculturally endowed, excelled in different areas.
While the North had its groundnut pyramids, South-East Nigeria had its palm oil plantations, and the South-West was known for cocoa.
The key to poverty alleviation is a renewed focus on this all important sector of the economy.
With increased availability of food and the increased income for farmers, we would have a revamped nation.
And it has been observed that a common denominator of advanced societies is how the farmer is genuinely treated as king, and they are spoilt with all manners of incentives, including subsidies and loans, and support at all levels to ensure that they are focused on the “dirty detail” of the day to day “bush work” of providing food for the rest, happily and without distraction. This follows the Yoruba adage which says, “Agbe lo’ba”, meaning, the farmer is the king.
The APC administration in Ondo state is putting a bite on that adage with the numerous efforts made to put the state on a sound agricultural footing.
It has taken a step to enumerate farmers in the state with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) recently signed between Ondo State Agricultural Commodities Association (OSACA) and Orbital Solutions Global Services LTD, a private organisation to register farmers under the umbrella of OSACA online. This can impact positively on the farming experience and generate data, without which planning would be futile, or, at best, haphazard.
Ondo State Government has also given direct intervention to farmers through seedling distribution. Recently, cashew and cocoa seedlings, 25,000 and 400,000 respectively, were distributed for free in partnership with the Federal Government.
According to reports, as part of efforts to boost cocoa production in Ondo State, the State government has established another Cocoa Plantation at Ijugbere in Owo Local Government Area of the state.
Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu said that the establishment of the plantation is to reposition the state as one of the best cocoa growers in the country.
The project, which occupies 35 hectares is designed to specifically produce improved cocoa from the 450,000 seedlings recently distributed.
The governor expressed complete devotion to returning the state to where it used to be as the leading producer of Cocoa, while stating that the agricultural policies of his administration are aimed at creating jobs for the unemployed and to ensure food security for the state.
His words: “We used to be the leading Cocoa Producer in the world. Ondo State would soon take its rightful position in the production of Cocoa.”
He has also promised that his administration would make loans available to farmers, in partnership with banks.
Research and development are taking place all the time, with new methods emerging to enhance agricultural processes. And the government has been involved in the training of cocoa farmers, using the modern form of fermentation and drying of the cash crop, to meet the best of international standards and for more return on investment.
Further revealing the philosophical underpinning of his administration’s agricultural drive and objectives, the governor reportedly said: “It is equally our opinion anchored on empirical evidence, that agriculture, practiced with a philosophy of self reliance plays a pivotal role in the absorption of a considerable chunk of the vast army of unemployed youths willing to participate in this realistic project.
“We will create real wealth and our people will be set free from the pangs of hunger and deprivation.
“This administration has been unequivocal in its determination to encourage our people to embrace agriculture.
“We are convinced that there can be no real development in our clime if this very important sector is neglected. We are bold to assert that before long, there will be food security in the state.”
From a press release from the office of the governor, it is gathered that the National Project Coordinator of FADAMA III Additional Financing Project, Mr Tayo Adewumi, while speaking at an event in Akure, Ondo State capital, where over N200million were distributed to farmers under the FADAMA scheme, over 3,000 hectares of cassava and 1,000 hectares of rice are being cultivated under the scheme across the state.
He equally commended the governor, saying that he has attracted over N200 million to support over 2,000 farmers in the state.
According to him, “Ondo State is yearly adding 50,000 metric tons of Cassava and 1,500 metric tons of Rice to the national food basket of our nation, which current importation figure stood at 2.3million tons.
“This output can be increased, if only we are able to produce rice 2-3 times in a year, increase our productivity per hectare through more improved agronomic practices, in addition, to increase the number of project beneficiaries which today stands at about 5,000 farmers in the state.”
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Engineer Alex Aragbaiye at the event explained that out of the N215 million made available, the sum of N197, 742,500 million will be used by the farmers for the cultivation of about 2,000 hectares of cassava and rice, while the balance will be used to start the setting-up of processing facilities for both Cassava and Rice.
He disclosed that the Cassava Mills will be located at Elegbeka, Odigbo, Ore, while the rice Mill will be located at Ogbese.
The Permanent Secretary also hinted that the State government has embarked on the construction of three Agricultural Equipment Hiring Enterprises, AEHE, Centres in Akure, Owo and Ore at a cost of N12. 9 million each, saying on completion, the Centres will be equipped by FADAMA with Agricultural machines, equipment and tools.
The Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Agriculture and Agric business, Mr Akin Olotu at the event, reaffirmed the commitment of the government to the farmers in the state to make farming exciting and stress-free by backing it up with appropriate and adequate mechanisation.
Late last year, Ondo State government promised to empower more than 1,000 unemployed youths in beekeeping through training and funding, and to engage 18,000 youths, 1,000 per local government in various areas of agricultural interests.
Mr Akin Olotu, while making a pitch for the beekeeping programme said, “Beekeeping has a potential to create thousands of jobs, if properly harnessed.
“A graduate can earn about N2 million to N3 million a year from beekeeping, which can equally earn foreign exchange for the country.
“We are looking at making the state a reference point when it comes to beekeeping business in Nigeria and the world at large.To this end, we are empowering 1,000 beekeepers with a minimum of 10 hives for a start.
“We are starting a pilot apiary on a five-hectare land at Isuada in Owo Local Government Area, with a view to creating a brand that will have global recognition.
“We are looking at a packaging that can penetrate different segments of the economy and one that can be appealing to the hospitality industry as a substitute for sugar.”
He said that the focus is on a brand of honey “that can flourish in the international market and at the same time compete effectively in the domestic market.”
In a telephone interview with Special Focus, Mr Olotu, while responding to questions on the status of the promises made in the areas of beekeeping and the active engagement of 18,000 youths in farming across the eighteen local governments, gave the following responses: “We went round the local governments and interviewed candidates. About 1,000 were picked for honey production, and they have undergone the necessary training in two stages. The stage we are in is for the release of funds to them and we are working with the CBN on that.
“The CBN will disburse through another bank, but we settled on about 812 bee keepers to be funded out of over 1000 that were trained.
“The number is less that those trained because some of them are also involved in other CBN schemes. And they cannot collect money from two different schemes.
“We have succeeded in producing the sample honey with the quality packaging, targeted towards premium market, the big hotels and some other high class markets.
“Some of the youths are engaged in sorghum cultivation, which is very new in the state. It is being cultivated in Ose Local Government, using the former Leventis land, which has been abandoned for some years. We’ve reopened the place and some are engaged there.
“We also have an arrangement with a company together with an Israeli outfit to construct some greenhouses there which would engage more people at the site.
“Some of the youths are into broiler production, some are into maize production, and some are into cassava cultivation. Our limitation has to do with land.
“We have applied for commercial agricultural credit scheme loan, and by the special grace of God, when we have it, we will clear more land for them during this dry season which is approaching, so that those that we were unable to engage this year will be fully engaged next year.
“Some are into egg production in the state. Those that are into broiler production, it is their broiler that we might use for the school feeding in the state. And some are going into marketing. The marketing still has to do with the level of our production.
“Some are into cocoa farming, some of them are at the Oda Cocoa Plantation, there, they have between two to four hectares of cocoa. Some are being reestablished and you know we gave out cocoa seedlings this year, those that are into cocoa benefitted from it. So in the next few years, they too will be harvesting cocoa in the state.
“We’ve not been able to accomodate all because of paucity of funds and at the same time, the restrictions in land availability, but I am sure by the coming year, we will expand fully because the money we are accessing from the Central Bank would have been available then.
“For now, we’ve been working within what the state is able to give out.
“Some of the programmes will equally come under the accelerated agricultural development scheme, and we are equally working on funds from the CBN for that.
“Many has been engaged and more are coming in by the special grace of God. In Ore too, we have an arrangement with an Israeli outfit, the same Israeli consultant working at the Leventis site will work at Ore.
“In Ore oil plant plantation which has been abandoned for many years, rehabilitation work has started there and we are screening the list we have now so that 500 of our youths will join them. That is how far we’ve been able to go.”
He said that close to 6,000 of the projected 18,000 young farmers have been engaged so far.