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WHAT OGUN GOVT IS DOING TO ADDRESS FOOD SUFFICIENCY CHALLENGE —AGRIC COMMISSIONER

The Ogun State Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr. Adeola Odedina, reveals the efforts of the state government under the leadership of Governor Dapo Abiodun, to make agriculture business attractive to young people, government strategy to move agriculture forward even after COVID-19 pandemic, and other issues. Excerpts:

Ogun, the Gateway State, is blessed with vast land good for agricultural purposes. What are the efforts being put in place by your ministry to make the state the food basket of the nation?

Ogun State is indeed blessed with vast land. The state has close to 1.2 million hectares of arable land and 70 per cent of this have not been put into cultivation.

When this administration came in people were very hopeful because of the interest and the support, and the policy of government on agriculture. It is unprecedented that 60,000 young people registered for agricultural opportunities in this state.

These agricultural opportunities are in about seven value chains. These include rice, cassava, cattle, fisheries, oil palm; piggery; poultry and cotton. Specifically, about 27,000 of these people want to plant cassava. Where do you plant cassava? It is on the soil and that means we have 27,000 young people who want to use this land based opportunities. We plant rice also on land.

Agricultural opportunities we have in the state are based on about three things. One is direct investment in agriculture by investors, either by local, national or international investors.  A good number of them want to establish processing factories where they process raw materials from farmers and young people into products and with that they will also need outgrowers, young people who will want to grow for them.

One thing we are doing in Ogun state is that we are using these opportunities to provide job for young people. For example, a factory is here now to process cassava with about two to three hundred tonnes per day, we encourage those in charge of the factory to work with either the farmers in the host community or the youths that we have empowered and provide raw materials for them.

Our geographical location is close to one of the biggest economic hub in Africa, Lagos and investors may see Ogun state, as a prime location to site their industries, where we have land and raw materials.

The state is also deliberately attracting land investors. Since the inception of this administration, more than 50 investors have been discussing with us. Some of them on how to use the land opportunities that we have,either to grow or to site industries with farmers and young people around them. We are using this advantage of availability of land to promote investment for industrialisation; we are using it to provide job opportunities for young people; encouraging smallholder farmers to increase their production so that they will also be included in the agricultural opportunities.

Our borders are closed because of COVID-19. Even before the closure of the borders, there are some products that the people in the industries cannot get to buy because of scarcity or because it will increase their cost of production. Some of the products that are being imported into the nation are being substituted with local materials for production.

For example, cassava flour which they use in everything they do. They use wheat flour as well. Breweries now use maize. Most of the things they use sorghum for are substituted with things that our farmers grow. These are opportunities that everybody is taking advantage of.

In this COVID-19 era, we are being taught the hard lesson of eat what you grow, grow what you eat. When we are planning these opportunities for this roadmap in agriculture, we did not think of COVID-19, so it is a divine thing that we have set up our pillars by using our land to cultivate.

Apart from growing for the EU market and others, the local market also needs our tomatoes and pepper and with this, we will not be relying on other state or region to feed us. The land is being used for food security, industrial linkage and large scale investment in agriculture.

It is no longer news that the crude oil price on the international scene keeps falling since the Coronavirus pandemic broke out which no doubt has affected the global economy and you know that Nigeria as a nation largely depended on oil to sustain its economy. Do you think agriculture is the main thing for the country to develop the economy?

It is agriculture that will bail us out because it is not in every part of the world that you have crude oil. If we look into the records of what is going on, a good number of countries in the world are thriving on agriculture. They don’t have oil and the time is now for the country to actually diversify into agriculture as our source of wealth as a nation.

We all know that most of our existence depend on agriculture, either in the cloth that we wear, the food we eat or the furniture in our houses. Agriculture is a major foreign exchange earner for any country, and so oil might not be sustainable. However, agriculture will sell any day, anytime. If we take this opportunity and launched ourselves back, it is the real thing because it has happened in the past, before we started reliance on oil, our economy then was based on tree crops such as cocoa and cashew.

Before COVID-19, we have been having partnership proposals from Europe and everywhere in the world, for us to be able to grow vegetable to satisfy our nutritional demand in every part of the world. We can actually go into massive production of tree crops, vegetables and spices.

We can grow vegetable all year around. There are some parts of the world that they only have two or three months to grow crops and they eat throughout the year.

So, the dynamics of the world is changing on agriculture. We need to gathered ourselves together and build the capacity and support private sector engagement in this new opportunity, agriculture, so that we provide them with enabling environment to get their land, improve on the business environment, in adherence to national and international quality specifications and standard is very crucial.

Ogun State is known to be a leading state in the growing of cassava and cotton. What is the adminstration of Governor Dapo Abiodun doing to encourage farmers that are in this business?

Nigeria is the highest producer of cassava in the world with about more than 53 million tonnes annually. Out of the 53 million tonnes, one tenth of it comes from Ogun State. Ogun state is home to about four biggest buyers of cassava. For small and medium scale processors for cassava. Ogun state also has the largest figure. This explains the reason Governor Abiodun, open the window of opportunity for 27,000 young people who opted for cassava planting.

Last week, in the first batch of intervention in growing cassava, 3,500 people were given the biggest input per page that anybody can give to any farmer. 60 bundles of stem; 12 litres of insecticides; four bags of fertilisers and N270,000, so that they can grow cassava because those companies we talked about need it. We are using the cassava crop to provide raw materials for the industries, job for young people and food security.

I don’t think there is anywhere in this country or Africa that 27,000 cassava farmers are empowered. In the first phase of this, 3,500 people have been attended to, that means we are doing well in cassava cultivation.

For cotton, the cotton being produced in the state has the highest quality. Ogun state cotton is a premium one. The state’s Ministry of Agriculture is working with the Cotton Association of Nigeria. One of the things I have done since I became commissioner was my participation at the harvesting of Cotton in Ijebu-Igbo to support them. The latest thing that the governor did on Cotton was the release of 10000ha of unused land in  the state for the growth of cotton. As I speak, over 2,000 cotton farmers have registered under the Cotton Anchor Borrowers’ Programme. They have concluded their documentation with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for the growing of Cotton this year.

Ogun State has nine farm settlements established by the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo which spread across the state. What is happening at those farm settlements?

We have started opening up our farm settlements to make it available for young people who are showing interest in agriculture and residents who need assistance in opening land so that they can be part of the industrial linkage in growing crop and for food security.

We also have in the roadmap for agriculture to work with the private sector in bringing infrastructure back to the farm settlements. There must be infrastructure such as electricity, water, good road network to encourage young people to stay in the settlements. If really we want to make people to stay in the farm settlements, the places must be conducive for living. Aside infrastructure, there must be agriculture infrastructure, processors there. What will bring development to the farm settlements is actually agricultural activities, if they are sustained, development will come naturally. Development of farm settlements is multi-sectoral, what we are doing now is to take agricultural project into farm settlements and before we know it, development will happen.

The state is into rice farming popularly known as Ofada. What is government doing to ensure that local rice is produced in large quantiles to feed the nation and probably for exportation?

Recently, we flagged off the harvesting of rice at Sowunmi village where rice was planted between October and December last year. In Eggua, we have about 900 hectares of rice farm that have been planted in that location alone, while activities are going on in other parts of the state.  We are bringing back the rice revolution. Many young people are keying into rice production, and that is apart from the Anchor Borrowers’ programme that we are doing in rice for the dry season with over 3000 rice farmers. The young people in conjunction with the advice from the ministry. We are assisting them with land clearing and also link them with inputs such as seeds and fertilisers like we are doing in cassava.

Before, in Ogun State, we only know of the Asero Mill, we are in Atan in Ijebu North East local government, some days back where we have a 15 tonnes per hour rice mill. We have a functioning rice mill in Sawonjo and two in Eggua. Private sector participation is equally good. We have an investor in the state that is already establishing rice mill with a capacity of 100 tonnes per day, so that we don’t need to go outside the state sourcing for padding, as we are producing, we are also supporting infrastructure. Everybody that is producing has an off taker already. If you sum up the rice in those locations, it is not what we can consume in the state alone, because we want our young people to also benefit from the business of rice.

Rice is a big business. Everything about it is for money making. It is a long value chain.

What is the ministry doing to mitigate the effect of COVID-19 pandemic on agriculture in the state?

What we did as a state was to have a COVID-19 response strategy for agriculture. By the time we heard of it, we developed a strategy. When you visit any of our inputs agencies, you will find inputs there. We have inputs in all our centres, where farmers access them and get information on agriculture mechanisation. We have the strategy developed by the state that will continue to move agriculture forward outside the pandemic.

We are supporting and implementing it. We are supporting food processing and production location across the state, either government or private, so that they can go to work and be COVID-19 compliant.

In the Ministry of Agriculture, we have the COVID-19 team. They go round to support people on how to work during this time. We are ready for any food challenge that might arise as a result of the pandemic.

We are linking our farmers to seed and planting materials of biofortified crops of Vitamin A cassava and maize so that they can grow and eat them to boost immunity and also do business with it.

The governor initiated and approved the Food Security Covid-19 response plan to include support to all food production and processing locations in the state in this pandemic period

He also approved training of more young people in all LGs in profitable agricultural value chain opportunities so that they can be part of our collective response to the anticipated pandemic induced food challenges.

The state is focussing on all agricultural assets of dams, silos and Irrigation, farm resources of farm settlements as response strategy to COVID-19.

How is poultry business in the state?

Ogun state is actually number one in poultry, fishing and aquaculture. We are actually the poultry and aquaculture hub in the country. The largest aquaculture in West Africa is in Eriwe. As for broiler production, we are the largest producer. What stand us out as a state in poultry was our intervention strategy in poultry production. We started our own intervention with 1,000 broilers per participant with each of them expected to make profit between N150,000 to N160,000 in six weeks and they will run it six rounds in a year in one location at Odeda farm settlement alone, while other activities are on going. We are supporting them as commercial producer by next year and bring in more participants. We have done the first, second rounds while waiting for the third. The implication is that we are doing the pilot with 54 young farmers and each round they will raise 54,000 broilers. As an implications of the success in the poultry pilot phase we now have 9000 applications from young people who want to participate.

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