Making Ogun Nigeria’s Food Basket

Seyi Makinde

Olufemi Ezekiel

The maxim, “Farmers are kings” is loosely used to underscore the importance of food security as a necessity in every African home.
Often times, it is used to get the best out of, and encouraged a lazy man to redouble his effort in providing adequately for his immediate family needs.

Also, there is the Yoruba saying that when the issue of food for sustenance is resolved, poverty has no say and it is banished” (Ti ounje ba ti kuro ninu ise, ise buse).

With the endowed natural arable lands, Ogun State stands a better chance to become the food basket of the country

Besides, with much premium being placed on agriculture to serve as lead way to the provision of food security and also generate employment opportunities for the teeming youths, there is no gain saying the fact that, the renewed vigour and commitment on the part of the current administration in Ogun State is key to drive the economy of the state for growth and development and as well, shore up its revenue base.
While receiving in audience, the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Mohammed Sabo Nanono, at his Oke Mosan, Abeokuta office recently, Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, reiterated the commitment of the present administration to pay speccial attention to the agricultural sector.

He said: “We are the Gateway State. We are the closest state to the biggest economy in this country. We have 16,000 sq kilometres of arable land out of 20,000 sq kilometres of our landmass.

“We have the people and most of them are looking for employment. It is easy for us to look at this situation, to say look, if we have the land; we have the people; we have the market; and we have no reasons not to turn Ogun State into the bread basket of this nation.

“And that is what inspired me in you, when I left your office, the very first time I visited you in Abuja.

“After the discussion with you, we formed the right set of people and we decided that we must find our ways back to agriculture. This state is the state of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, where we have rubber plantation; we have palm oil plantation; we have the popular Ofada rice and so on and so forth.

“We are the largest producer of cassava in this country. So, there is no reason for us, not to turn these opportunities to our utmost advantage. We see agriculture as opportunity for us, not only to contribute our own quota to food security of the plan of the Federal government, we see it as an opportunity to generate revenue. We see it as an opportunity to increase employment and reduce unemployment.”

The minister, in his own statement at that ocassion, said the federal government is very much interested in investing in Cocoa and rice production in Ogun State owing to the premium the state government has placed in the agricultural sector.
Nanono said: “I see Ogun State as one of the states in the southwest that the Federal Government has interest in, in two fundamental areas.

“Cocoa industry and rice production and also agricultural mechanization, which is going to affect about 632 local governments.

“And I think we consider Ogun as one the states that will be a pioneer in the southwest. Let me take you on the issue of cocoa, my worry was this, our neighbours Republic of Benin, Ghana, Cote D’voire, over the last 20 years have developed new varieties of cocoa with a harvest period of two and half years.

“While I was trying to find out how did they do it, I realised that they have benefited from the ECOWAS Development Bank to do it. This is a subsidiary of African Development Bank (AfDB). Not only that, Nigeria is the largest shareholder in the ECOWAS Bank for Development. Why would these countries benefit from this bank, while we are also a shareholder?

“The number two, we are going for agricultural mechanisation. The President has made a pronouncement on that in his 2020 new year message that 632 local governments will be affected. Then, there will be processing centres in about 140 under an agreement with Brazilian government and some European Banks to finance it. It is going to be a private sector.

“Now that I have become the Minister for Agriculture, we have to do something as regard the cocoa industries, absolutely. Luckily enough, just about three or four days ago, representatives of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) came to my office. They came with a package for the development of the new cocoa varieties and palm oil. Palm oil in Calabar and Cocoa where they will start testing it in Ondo State.
“We are doing preliminary discussions with them, and from there, we will define where we are going to. But when you take it overall, globally, it is my intention that we have to focus on the new varieties of cocoa that will yield in two and half years across the country.”

Replying to the minister’s submission, the governor also said: “When we came in, we began to look at what do we do. All we did immediately was in the area of employment. We launched what we called “job portal” and that job portal allowed us to get the dimension of the unemployed.

“The first time, we got about 130,000 unemployed youths and it was then, we knew we had a problem. And we realised that, there is no other industries that could absorb these unemployed youths, except agriculture. We have to look around and we saw opportunities in one of the schemes of the federal government called “Anchor Borrowers” programme being operated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

“I am glad to say that, between the last six months we have enumerated 10,000 people in that “Anchor Borrowers’ programme. We have further 40,000 people that have been undergoing that scheme. And this provides for us, on the part of government, to allocate one hectare of land each to them which we have done for the beneficiaries and then, match them with processors (Anchor Borrowers).

“And we have many of them in Ogun State as the industrial capital of this country. The first of such schemes is our cassava scheme. The first set of the ‘Anchor Borrowers’ that have signed off have offtaken cassava from us, about 9,000 people.
“We have allocated land to them and we have even cleared those lands for them. On the part of the government, we are looking at a more improved yield per hectare of cassava. And we have other anchors that we have subscribed to. We are quite excited about the opportunities that these present to us.

“We are growing cotton; growing rice; and we are resuscitating our palm oil plantation which have 6,000 hectares. It is so exciting to hear from you, the President of the AfDB (Dr Akinwunmi Adesina) was here at the turn of the year, because he said they are going to have two processing zones in Nigeria that, they are coming to do one in Ogun State.

“Now, coming to hear your plans for Ogun State, 632 local governments of which Ogun State would be a beneficiary it is so refreshing and it is so uplifting, particularly on the topic of agricultural mechanization. We will believe that, this will be so impactful because in our relationship with our farmers we see these as the gaps that exist. That the farmers have realised our take from them is that, one, the land aspect of it is so key. They can’t afford to prepare the lands for themselves. When it comes to cultivation and harvesting, if these processes are mechanised, it can only lead to more profitable crops for our farmers.

“All I can say, sir, is that we are ready for you. Whatever it is, the plans you have for us, we are ready. We have a job portal which if you need personnel for the scheme, we can provide 100,000 people as extension service workers for you today.

We don’t have to start looking elsewhere because we already have them.

“I appreciate the fact that it is important to have the right ratio of extension workers in farmers because these are the people that want to plant; want to harvest; and they want to apply the right inputs. I mean, the choice of right inputs, the right pesticide, the right fertilizer and so on and so forth.

“You have further reinforced our belief and trust in the fact that, agriculture is really doing well. Like I said, we are the gateway-we are closed to Lagos; we are closiest to the biggest ports; we are close to the airport; and we are closiest to the biggest market. So, there is no reason for us not to be the bread basket of the nation. Like you said, the cocoa pilot scheme that you want to have in Ondo state, this is where you should come and do it. This is the gateway state, let them come and do the pilot here.

We will give you all the support that it is required.
“Recently, I think the President of Afreximbank told me that, there is a palm tree that has a shorter harvesting period, which is about three years. What we are looking at is that, potential partners should come and partner with us in the area of palm production.
“But there must be conditions that, they must put a refinery here. We will give them the existing palm tree and traditionally, we will give them additional land. We are looking forward to this relationship with you and we will continue to cherish it”, averred.
Governor Abiodun has always been proactive in administering the state. Shortly upon his assumption of office on May 29, 2019, he established the office of “job creation” and appointed a wizkid, Mr Olakunle Olude as Special Adviser.

Olude, who is the promoter of “jobberman”, a leading online outsourcing employment agency was put in charge of the job creation outfit.

Also, on Wednesday, January 29, 2020, officials of the French Embassy led by the Regional Agrcultural Counsellor, Mrs Sonia Darracq, paid a courtesy visit to the Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry and pledged their support on the proposed area of partnership, collaboration and strategies that include training and capacity building in agricultural value chains, linkage with international investors in Agribusiness areas of acquaculture, forest conservation and opportunities in non-timber products with benefits in other areas of forestry and resuscitation of international projects in forestry.

Meanwhile, recently, the agricultural revolutionary drive of the administration received a major boost, when a private sector player, Amobyn Farms Limited, officially off-took 54,000 of the state’s broiler birds.

The state Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Adeola Odedina, who represented the governor, at the official commissioning of the project located at Odeda Farm Institute, stressed that the scheme was not only meant to empower unemployed youths for sustainability, but would also link them with opportunities that would be beneficial to the youths themselves and the state at large.

He said further: “The 1,000 birds per participant’s ‘Broiler Empowerment Programme’, which started six weeks ago has been off-taken by Amobyn Farms, while cheques have been presented to the participants for the first production cycle. Also, while the beneficiaries would start another cycle in few weeks from now, with each beneficiary earning a profit of about N140,000 per cycle.

Ezekiel wrote from Abeokuta, Ogun state