As agriculture takes centre stage in the nation’s economy, Yinka Kolawole reports on Osun State’s efforts to leverage on the green economy to reposition itself

Life is gradually returning to the nine farm settlements located across the State of Osun. Settlers have attributed this fresh breathe to the attention the settlements have received and the infrastructure upgrade being carried out by the present administration to make them functional, conducive and habitable for both old and new farmers.

Improvement in the facilities available on the farm settlements have also triggered a significant increase in the number of applicants for land in the settlements and improved land under use, with attendant enhanced social life.

Historically, the three residential farm settlements in Ago-Owu, Esa-Oke and Oyere were established in the 1960s by the late sage and former Premier of the defunct Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, but had since be neglected by successive administrations until recently.

The military regime of Colonel Theophilus Bamigboye between 1997 and 1998 added three small and peri-urban farm settlements, which were located at Igbaye, Ifon-Orolu and Oluponna.

While the administration of Chief Adebisi Akande between 1999 and 2003 also made concerted efforts to return life back to the settlements. He embarked on some renovations at the existing farm settlements and created three non-residential settlements at Mokore, Iwo and Ila-Orangun, bringing the total to nine.

The current administration under Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, had since assumption of office, through the Osun Rural Enterprise and Agriculture Programme (O-REAP), embarked on programmes directed at revitalising the farm settlements through measures that would bring about improvement to them and make them conducive for existing farmers as well as encourage new ones especially the youths who are interested in farming.

The O-REAP identified agricultural land as a key resource and as a result instituted a mechanism, termed the Osun Farm Settlements Land Validation Project, to collate detailed situation report on the existing agricultural lands on the government farm settlements. Gboyega Osobu, project leader, O-REAP, said this became necessary for effective management of the land holdings, farmers information and ultimately to increase the amount of land available for both small and large scale farmers.

Osobu stated further that the validation project; a first in the history of farm settlements in south west Nigeria, was carried out in two phases with the active involvement of the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (O-YES) cadets and staff of Agric Services Department of the State Ministry of Agriculture

and Food Security. He said the project adopted the use of the Geographic

Information Technology (GIS) to map the boundaries of individual farm holdings and of the farm settlements, after carrying out a perimeter survey of all the farm settlements.

At the end of the validation exercise, Osobu noted that records showed that there are over 7,000 farmers spread across the nine settlements occupying two to ten hectares (Ha) of land. Over 4,211Ha of land was also discovered, bringing the total size to approximately 20,200 Ha. An Agric land allocation committee constituted by the Governor has since allocated up to 6000Ha of land to 250 smallholder farmers. Also, the data generated was utilised in developing an Agriculture Land Planning Information System (ALPIS), conceived to assist in the overall management activities and to make the information relating to the farm settlements available at the touch of a button.

In terms of physical upgrade of infrastructure; over 100Kilometres of roads have been constructed in and around the farm settlements to allow for access and movement of farm produce out of the settlements. Over 30 bridges, 100 culverts built, a number of electrification projects, provision of bore holes, construction of over 120 cribs for storage and the construction of model medical centres have been facilitated by the Aregbesola-led government.

According to the General Manager, Osun State Agricultural Development Corporation (OSADEC), John Olanipekun, the state government provided free mechanisation services for clearing and preparation of farmland of over 7,000 hectares owned by farmers to boost massive food production in the

state.

Olanipekun said, “Since the coming of the present administration in the state, there had been radical transformation in term of agricultural activities in the state. When the government came to power, it realised the need to diversify the economy of the state, which is changing tune from over reliance on oil to agriculture. This is also seen in the attention given to farm settlements in the State.”

OSSADEC has also cleared and tractorised 754 hectres of land for various group of farmers outside the farm settlements at subsidised rate, thus making farming easy for farmers in the State of Osun.

The state government has also assisted farmers in the settlements and in other parts of the state to access credit facilities. Olanipekun disclosed that since the Aregbesola-led administration came into office, no fewer than 3,645 farmers have benefitted from loan facilities of N429, 740,000.00, while in 2015 it commenced the disbursement of N500million to about 5,500 farmers across the state.

According to Olanipekun, “the loan is interest free to farmers. The state Government paid the interest on behalf of the farmers to the Bank of Agriculture (BOA), which is collaborating with the state on the implementation of the loan scheme.

The Government made it zero percent interest to make it accessible to farmers, so as to boost their morale.

This loan covered virtually all aspects of agriculture, ranging from crops, livestock, fishery, piggery and agricultural marketing like agro chemical and insecticides.

Aside from the cash loan, there are other kinds of loan facilitated by the state government to farmers. For instance, the State under O-REAP, gave agro chemicals, seeds and seedlings to identified farmer groups and individuals.

The State has also assisted farmers in adding value to their produce through the provision of storage facilities to farmers. It constructed over 120 Cribs for storage, which is highly subsidised by the state government.

Olanipekun said OSSADEC has 10 set of cassava processing equipment, another 10 set of cassava chipping machines, 3 set of Yam Flour (Elubo) processing equipment, four set of multi grain threshing equipment, 20 Rice Harvesting Equipment to sell to farmers, group of farmers and farmer cooperatives at 40% subsidy. He stressed that before now, there was no such gesture.

“Before this administration came to power, there was no provision for post-harvest storage for farmers”, Olanipekun declared.

The impact of all the above is that the farm settlements have experienced an influx of intending farmers of diverse nature.

Besides, the state government recently signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) for the establishment of a demonstration farms at Ago Owu Farm Settlement in the state for best farming practices.

The state government in the agreement would made available 204.39hectares of land at the farm settlement for the development of agriculture and production of massive food as alternative to reliance on oil sector.

The demonstration farm centre is also for the purposes of conducting research and train young farmers in the state in modern, commercial and profitable farming. Under the agreement, the IITA will also carry out cassava, plantain and other crops multiplications.

Also, the state late last year signed $50million Agriculture Investment with a United States of American (USA) Firm for the provision of modern agricultural technological services, aimed at given fresh impetus to its agricultural sector revolution drive in the state.

The MoU covered the development and infrastructural upgrade of a breeding, fattening and processing of beef cattle ranch and the establishment of agricultural equipment leasing and hire centres to be managed by JIL farm Limited.

An investigation conducted by our correspondents revealed that retired military officers, retired civil servants, academicians including professors, retired teachers with interest in farming are being attracted to the farm settlements. Apart from this, teeming number of artisans, technicians who are dealing in farm equipment as well as traders of agro chemicals are relocating to these farm settlements for commercial purposes, thus boosting the social life in the settlements.

Cassava processing, palm oil processing facilities and other small processing points operated by private individuals are also springing up, especially in the three older residential farm settlements.

To meet the shelter needs of the settlers, the over 600 housing units built for farmers by Awolowo are now being renovated for use by the state, while new ones were seen being constructed by farmers.

A visit to the farm settlements also revealed that private, public

elementary schools as well as middle and high School are present for children of the settlers to acquire formal education. Indeed, the Middle and High School, established in 2010 when the governor came into office, have turned out their first set of students for the school leaving certificates last year.

Two of the first set of settlers at Ago-Owu farm settlement, Elder Samuel Adeleke Olubode and Pa Jimoh Omotosho, commended the State Government for assisting in returning life back to the settlements. Olubode who claimed he came to Ago-Owu farm settlement in 1960, stated that had the State Government not come up with the gesture of providing the needed infrastructure and incentives, the settlement would almost have been total deserted. He explained that the increase in population being witnessed now has brought renewed hope to the farmers, especially their children.

Omotosho called on the government to help the farmers in the settlements to prevent the invasion of cattle on their farm, arguing that often times there are clashes with Fulani herdsmen over grazing on the settlements.

The President, Conference of Osun State Farm Settlements Association (COSFSA), Chief Rasaki Adebayo Adedapo, who is also Elemono of Ila-Orangun, also commended Governor, State of Osun for the gesture. He however added that the approach of passing information to farmers should be enhanced.

A retired civil servant, Alhaji Wale Ogungbe said he came to the farm settlement after he retired from the civil service. He noted that his love for farming and the encouragement from government boosted his morale to relocate to the farm.

The Director Agricultural Services, Osun State Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Mr. Kola Dauda Ajisekola, said that the farmers are getting things right under the present administration, hence the youth are now been encouraged to go back to farm.

“The youth were complaining in the past that they cannot use cutlasses and hoes to farm, but now that we are mechanizing agriculture in the state, they are being encouraged to partake in farming. The land cleared in farm settlements have been given out to youths at no cost. This has really encouraged them”, he said.

Commenting on the development, the Coordinator, O-REAP, Dr. Charles Akinola, noted that it was an indication of success for the present administration in the area of agriculture and food security.

He explained that government interventions revealed that large chunk of farmland are not under cultivation in most farm settlements. He said that such parcel of land were taken away and given to those who needed them to farm under its land audit and validation exercise.

“It is an indication of success that we have recorded because if you go to the farm settlements, when we came in there were large track of land not under cultivation, but with the awareness and the seriousness which the government attach to agriculture in Osun, we are taking the land from those who are not using it and giving it to those in need of it. So under this new arrangement, young people and professionals are all there to farm, especially now that we are at a point where we start to measure performance once you are there. You must perform or otherwise the land will be taken away from you”, Akinola noted.

Akinola also pointed that the agency would continue to bring in the private sector into playing prominent roles in agriculture. He cited the prompt and efficient distribution of farm inputs and penetration under its private sector led farm input supply programme, as one of such dividend.

He further disclosed that the state government is planning to establish more modern farm settlements as it sources for more land and encourage farmers to use them. He noted that the state government had identified and approached some traditional rulers and communities with wide expanse of land to release or lease them to the government for the purpose of farming,

while government would in turn hold this land in trust on behalf of such individuals or communities.

Akinola, who is also the Director General, Office of Economic Development and Partnership, said that the State government has entered into partnership with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) on improved seed multiplication to guarantee massive food production programme in the state.

Under the partnership, the institute will assist the State in the

establishment of a seed laboratory in the State University, UniOsun, to enhance profitable seed and seedling multiplication business in the state.

The gesture, he stressed, will also boost agri-preneurship, and enhance capacity for agric-business and other activities on the farm settlements.