Gov. Kayode Fayemi at the forum
At a recent forum in Washington DC, Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, outlined a comprehensive plan by his administration to turn around the economy of the state using modernized agriculture as the catalyst, reports Tokunbo Adedoja
With a population of over 2.7 million and a total land area of 5,307km2, of which about 4,596km2 is considered suitable for agriculture, and dual agro-climatological condition suitable for cultivation of almost all varieties of crops, Ekiti no doubt is graciously endowed by nature with all that is needed to feed its people and to be economically viable.
But at a Washington forum on "Nigeria: Tranforming Agric-Business Through Investment", organised by the Nigerian Embassy in US, in conjunction with the the Corporate Council on Africa and the US Exim Bank, Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, lamented that in spite of such agricultural goldmine bestowed on the state by nature, commercial farming was less than 4,000 hectares.
He would however not allow himself to be trapped in the quagmire of lamentation. Fayemi has taken up the cudgels to clear the way for the transformation of the state's economy using agriculture as the springboard. He said the state had taken the bold step of recognising agriculture as a business, and also focused on developing platforms that would transform subsistence low productivity farming and processing into modenized, commercial and technology-driven operations that would guarantee job and wealth creation.
The importance attached to modernizing agriculture by his administration could further be attested to by its prime location on the 8-point Agenda of the state government. Coming after governance and infrastructural development, modernizing agriculture is listed as Agenda 3 on the road map to Ekiti recovery. For him, that represents a significant step in his administration's pursuit of repositioning the state and in driving prosperity through agri-business operations for the purpose of eradicating economic poverty and meeting the millennium development goals.
On how this would be achieved, Fayemi, apparently not oblivious of the failures of past administrations, said this would be private sector-driven. He said targeted efforts would be made to promote access to land, inputs and equipment needed to increase productivity, while also overcoming bottlenecks in value chains that result in low returns to potential farmers.
The governor said it would also include increasing proportion of land under commercial cultivation, increasing the proportion of high value produce, and increasing value added within the state.
With a presentation at the Marriot Wardman Park Washington DC - venue of the forum - Fayemi took advantage of the opportunity presented by the gathering to canvass for agriculture sector investors for his state. He told potential investors that, interms of comparative advantage in major commodity value chains in Nigeria, Ekiti had the highest yield per hectare for casava and the best grade cocoa.
Apart from such comparative advantage in terms of high yield crops, Fayemi also listed, as Ekiti's strong points, its vantage market position, which places it in good proximity to consumers in Nigeria's major cities of Lagos, Ibadan and Abuja, and the growing supportive infrastructure like rail and aiport in neighbouring states, power grids network, dam facility, and planned provision of agro-processing hubs with functional industrial estates and parks.
The abundance of skilled labour at an economic cost and unskilled labour at comparatively lower cost, coupled with a stable political and security environment, he said, naturally made Ekiti investors' destination.
His government is however not banking on these huge agricultural potentials alone. A comprehensive package of incentives and supportive platforms to attract both local and foreign investments had been developed. Such incentives and supportive platforms include tax breaks that exempt new industries from rates and levies in their first three years of operations, one-stop-shop for investors to streamline bureacracy and regulatory environment, and dedicated committee to fast -track investment proposals.
Others include facilitation of agricultural and agro-processing land acquisition, community mobilisation with a view to supporting and facilitating linkages and partnerships with local agricultural communities, and financial institutions for credit facilities, equipment acquisition and information support.
In the old Western Region, the area now known as Ekiti State was believed to have accounted for over 40 per cent of cocoa products. To him, modernizing agriculture would involve reviving cocoa plantations to make Ekiti a world leader in cocoa production again, and make agriculture contribute 50 per cent of internally generated revenue, while also employing and training 20,000 youths in mechanized agriculture by 2014.
Interms of immediate investment potentials and offerings, he said the state would be focusing on production and processing of high value crops with a planned target for processing of high quality cassava flour, cassava chips, ethanol, and high quality rice and cocoa products.
The state's immediate investment potentials and offerings also include the development of 464,100 hectares of available agricultural land for mechanised farming operations and mobilisation of new investment in modern and profitable agriculture production and agro-processing of key value crops in which its has comparative advantages like vegetables, rice, palm oil and cashew, among others.
Fayemi also listed the forestry value chain as one of the state's valuable sectors with growth potentials for international private plantations and forestry investment. Noting the active space in tree planting in Ekiti for private investors, he said with a scheduled forest reserve size of almost 30,000 hectares, the state was rich in high value timber which is in huge demand both within and outside Nigeria.
For interested investors, Fayemi also seized the opportunity provided by the forum to reel out a list of abandoned government facilities for private sector take-over. These include the largest seed processing plant in Southwest, a moribund dairy farm, three medium scale cassava starch processing mills, a rice mill, farm settlement centres with land and uncompleted silo projects, a fish farm, a poultry hatchery, a feed mill and other livestock facilities.
The commisssioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Jide Arowosafe, also took steps to consolidate on the gains of the forum by following up with potential investors. After the forum had ended, Arowosafe held a business reception for potential investors to provide a platform for those that might want to seek further clarifications about the numerous opportunities in the state.