By Ahmed Ajiboye
There is no doubt that prior to the discovery of oil in Nigeria, agriculture was the mainstay of the Nigerias economy. And since the discovery of oil, successive governments of the nation have played down agriculture to the detriment of the nations economy.
For instance, a country like Malaysia that took palm-nuts from Nigeria years ago is today the worlds major producer of palm oil. For several years of oil boom in Nigeria, Nigerians largely depends on imported food items to survive, while not exporting enough. Also governments policies on imported food items were not consistence, as it was never protective and supportive of local food production.
Successive governments at all levels had not paid sufficient attention to the issue of diversification of the countrys economy before now. Most of the federating units rely so much on monthly allocation from the central government. This was the practice in governments circle since the discovery of oil in the Niger-Delta region of the country, until recently when the global price of crude oil suddenly crashed.
With the recent unprecedented crash and the renewed militancy in the Niger-Delta region, the countrys economy is in dire straits. The only way to revive and sustain the economy is through diversification into agriculture and other sectors.
It was against this background that the Kwara State governments realised that there was an urgent need to look beyond the oil by exploring other potential sources of revenue through agriculture.
So far, only a few states are taking concrete steps to diversify their states economy in line with the Federal Governments economic diversification agenda. Kwara State is one, not just through policy statement, but by implementing policies and actions that will sustain the agenda.
For Maigida, his administrations commitment to turn around the economic fortunes of the state through harnessing the huge potentials in the agricultural sector would not only benefit the people of Kwara, other governors in the country will also have much to learn by the time some of these initiatives come to reality.
On assumption of office, Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed flagged off the Kwara Agricultural Modernization Master Plan (KAMP 2012-2017), designed in partnership with Cornell University, New York, University of Ilorin and Kwara State University to create agro-driven economic diversification and establish Kwara State as the sub-regions economic hub.
One of KAMPs main strategies was development of the agriculture value chain development in rice, soya, cassava and rice. Under its Off-taker Demand-Driven Agricultural Activities (ODDA), the Ahmed administration disbursed N214 million to 172 lead farmers for improved mechanised farming across the state.
For the Off-taker Demand Driven Agriculture (ODDA), project, the State Government has acquired and cleared acquired and cleared about two thousand five hundred hectares of land in different locations in the state for its Youth Farm Development Programme.
The programme according to the Governor, when he received traditional rulers at the Government House, Ilorin, was aimed at moving youths from being job seekers to job creators and entrepreneurs through Agric-business.
He encouraged individuals to invest in procurement of farm machineries for hiring which he noted was a window to create jobs and ensure that the value chain was fully evolved in the states agricultural scheme.
Governor Ahmed commended the Federal government for its efforts which aimed at diversifying the economy especially through Agriculture.
He acknowledged the enormous support from the federal government through the Ministry of Agriculture and financial institutions in order to ensure diversification of the economy.
According to him, the State has accessed the Central Bank of Nigerias (CBN) Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS) loan to the tune of one billion Naira.
He noted that the loan was available to prospective farmers who would come either as cooperatives or as individuals for farming activities in the state.
Governor Ahmed assured that the loan would be made available to those who were already engaged in Agric-businesses like processing to upscale their equipment as well as those involved in poultry and fish farming.
Ahmed further explained that commercialisation was the available option if diversification from a monopolised oil economy to agriculture must thrive.
He said: Kwara State is taking the issue of commercial agriculture very serious. We are also generating a new generation of farmers with training of farmers at our integrated farm.
The governor also said the state was empowering farmers through a micro credit scheme, disclosing that 50,000 people had so far benefited from the programme, while the state would be earmarking N2 billion over the next three years.
He said: One of the problems the sector faces is access to finance; as a way to encourage farmers, it is important for farmers to have access to affordable credit such as provided under our micro credit scheme which has benefited 50,000 SMEs, including farmers.
We intend to inject about N2 billion into the scheme. I urge commercial banks and CBN to sustain lending for agriculture.
Ahmed also said the state had identified agro business development as a means to diversify the states revenue generation sources.
He said: In Kwara, we have identified agro business as one of the strategies to diversify our economy, to cut unemployment and of course to create wealth for our people.
Hence, in our drive to empower farmers in the state we have established an agric hub and the off-taker programme to ensure economic prosperity of farmers in the state.
Ahmed urged the Federal Government to leverage on the growing demand for cashew to develop the value chains embedded in the crop.
He said: The global demand for cashew is growing strongly in terms of volume and value and the world demand for it will continue to increase rapidly.
This presents an opportunity for us to increase our foreign exchange earnings, diversify our agric products, develop our agro industry and of course provide employment for our teeming youths.
In the same vein the Governor, through the Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Bamidele Adegoke further revealed the governors plans on agriculture in Ilorin, during the flag-Off of the Kwara State/Central Bank of Nigeria 2018 Anchor Borrowers Programme.
Adegoke, who stood in for the governor, told the gathering that the Maigida-led administration was already leveraged on the benefits of public and private investment through private sector partnership to achieve the goal of diversifying its economy from reliance on oil revenue to agriculture to achieve food security.
He said the state governments decision to engage in massive agricultural ventures through public and private sector partnership was deliberate to ensure that agriculture became the driver of a mixed sector economy for job creation and economic prosperity.
He disclosed that no fewer than 1,250 farmers are to benefit from the N1billion to be accessed from the Central Bank of Nigeria for the 2018 Anchor Borrower Programme by the Kwara State Government.
The Commissioner also explained that part of the money would be given to farmers as loan while the remaining part would be used to purchase farm inputs for farmers.
He also explained that the programme was meant to further empower local farmers to engaged in the production of rice, maize, soyabeans and cassava, explaining that the Agric Initiative was aimed at pursuing an agricultural policy that was pro-poor and farmers friendly.
According to him, “This, of course has been encapsulated in the policy thrust of the state government which aims at increasing the production of crops, livestock and fisheries of smallholder farmers through the provision of agro-inputs”.
He reminded beneficiaries of the Anchor Borrower Programme to abide by the rules guiding the programme and ensure that all conditions are strictly abide by.
The Special Adviser, Agriculture to the Governor, MrAnu Ibiwoye had in his remarks said the event marked another milestone in the government’s commitment in making agriculture a priority sector.
This initiative, according to the Governor’s aide was to further consolidate the initiative of the state government to support farmers in the state through agriculture.
Also speaking, the Director General, Kwara Micro Small and Medium Enterprises(MSME), MrSegunSoewu congratulated the beneficiary of the programme and assured other farmers that the programme is a continuous one.
He advised the beneficiaries to be committed to the programme and ensure prompt payment of the loan by ensuring that harvested produce are delivered to the Anchor.
In his remarks, the Kwara State Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, praised the government for prioritizing agriculture in order to make food sufficient.
He described the programme as a welcome development, saying that it would enable farmers to get access to soft loan to increase their farm activities thereby increase farm produce.
In a related development, the State Government also on Wednesday, flagged off the distribution of farm inputs to four thousand farmers under the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) N1billion Anchor borrower scheme.
At the flag off of the first phase at the Kwara Agro Mall, Ilorin, the Acting Coordinator of the Mall, Mr. Olagunju Abraham disclosed that 1,050 farmers selected from across the 16 Local Government Areas would benefit from the first phase.
Mr. Abraham explained that the benefiting farmers would receive seeds, fertilizers and chemicals in form of loan to support their farming activities under the scheme.
He said the government had earlier trained selected individuals to give necessary support to the benefiting farmers in order to improve their yields.
Mr. Abraham added that the farmers had been clustered into groups, having paid five per cent equity to benefit in the scheme.
While speaking with newsmen, the State Chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Mr. Tajudeen Ajibola, said the input would help the farmers in improving their yields.
Mr. Ajibola said all the benefiting farmers had attended training on the use of the input, saying that farms had prepared and ready for planting.
The AFAN Chairman therefore, commended the state government for proper coordination of the CBN Anchor borrowers scheme, saying that the farmers in the state are appreciative of the gesture.
One of the beneficiaries, Mrs. Lydia Mojilola from Isin Local Government Area thanked the state government for the intervention, saying that the input would improve their yields.