Exploring the Next Frontier

Eager to harness its resources for food security and economic growth, the Ekiti State government recently held an AgriBusiness Forum in Akure, the state capital

As an experienced farmer, Sunday Osanyilusi knows the importance and place of fertiliser in ensuring a good yield. But beyond such knowledge, year in, year out, he had watched helplessly as his capacity to cultivate the land reduced while his output further declined due to lack of access to fertiliser, which often came at prohibitive prices.

Now, that is a thing of the past. This year, Osanyilusi who has three children in the university has so far used 50 bags of fertiliser with each costing about N5,500. “If not for the Ekiti State government that made the fertilisers available to me and asked me to pay later, where would I get that kind of money?” Osanyilusi’s question is one that resonates with all other farmers in Ekiti State. With the help of the state government, many of them have been able to expand their capacity and yield tremendously in the last two years.

A very good example is Phillip Oyediran, Olosin of Osin Ekiti, a traditional ruler who not only presides over the administration of his local community, but also engages in cocoa farming. “This year, I have planted more than 10,000 cocoa seedlings so far with the help of the state government,” the traditional ruler said. He is excited about the way his farming efforts are turning out. Equally excited is Helen Oni, another farmer. “If you have five hectares you make nothing less than one million in a year and I have 20 hectares,” Oni said with a tinge of excitement about what the future yield would look like. Also looking into the future with a lot of excitement is Temitope Aroge, a medical doctor turned farmer. The young medical graduate of 2011 is now thanking his stars for jettisoning the stethoscope and going into farming in Ekiti State. Recently, his farm was able to access a $3 million, about N480 million, facility made possible with support from the Ekiti State government to expand his capacity. “With such funding we can go into high value farming,” Aroge said.

As far as Babajide Arowosafe, Ekiti State commissioner for agriculture and natural resources, is concerned, the success stories of the likes of Aroge, Oni and Oyediran among others are not mere happenstance. They are a product of deliberate efforts aimed at restoring agriculture to its place of pride in Ekiti State. In fact, the commissioner says there has been a silent revolution in the agric sector in Ekiti State. His views are supported by Governor Kayode Fayemi, who said: “For us in Ekiti State, food security is the first line of defence and attack to make poverty history. Therefore, all stakeholders must take the development of the agricultural sector seriously. This is the only way to guarantee the future of our great nation Nigeria beyond oil.”

This sort of focus, perhaps, explains why the state government decided to host its first ever agro-business-centred conference held between Tuesday, October 29 and Wednesday, October 30 at the Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort, Ikogosi, Ekiti State. Tagged Agbeloba AgriBusiness Forum 2013, the conference, according to the governor, was organised to generate thorough and comprehensive public and private sector discourse of the opportunities, potential, actualities and competences within the agricultural space in the state and country at large.

With the theme, Engaging Ekiti Competitive Resources for Nigeria’s Agri-food Sector, the conference, Fayemi said, “was designed to ultimately stimulate rewarding partnerships for the actualisation of the aggressive agenda in agriculture of this administration.” The aggressive agenda Fayemi was referring to includes, the engagement of hundreds of Ekiti youths in commercial farming through a scheme called the Youth Commercial Agriculture Development Programme, YCAD. Through this programme, Fayemi said at least 10,000 persons have been gainfully engaged along the value chains.

Through YCAD, the state government recorded the highest expansion in cultivation in the country in 2012 with the addition of over 1,150 hectares of cultivated land. Not only that, the gains of YCAD has started manifesting as the state has recorded the highest yield in cassava production in the country in 2013. Speaking at the Agbeloba forum last week in Ado Ekiti, Fayemi said: “Today, harvesting last year’s cassava production cycle of our youths in commercial agriculture programme for institutional sales continues and will be for the next 350 days, with over 60 tonnes per day hitting factory gates of Thai Farms, Flour Mills of Nigeria and Nigeria Starch Mills among others.”

Such high output is the direct result of the Ekiti State government’s investment in agriculture. Over the past two years, Fayemi said his administration has had an investment of over $300 million, about N48 billion. The governor added that “our focus in 2013 had been to facilitate the establishment of primary processing facilities that will add value to our farmers’ production outputs and prepare such for the huge internal market in Nigeria, most especially Lagos and Abuja that Ekiti State is comparatively advantageously located to service.”

As far as Rauf Aregbesola, Osun State governor, is concerned, with such plans to feed the Lagos market, Fayemi may just have hit the bullseye. Aregbesola, while speaking during an executive session at the Agbeloba forum last week, challenged the South-west states to rise up to the assignment and ensure that the huge potential that the Lagos market represents is fully serviced by them. The Osun State governor said research has shown that due to its population, Lagos residents spend an average of N3.5 billion on food commodities every day. He added that “if only a South-west state can account for just 10 per cent of that food commodity requirement of Lagos per day, that state would be making N350 million every day on food commodities alone.”

Speaking in the same vein, Babatunde Fashola, Lagos State governor, called for more inter-state trade and relationship between Lagos and its neighbouring states in the South-west in the area of food production. He argued that a situation where Nigeria is the second largest importer of rice in the world is worrisome and it is actually something that bothers on national security. Fashola argued that a nation that cannot feed itself cannot be taken seriously among the comity of nations. He is worried that for too long, Nigeria has turned it’s back on what should be it’s national priority.

Although he shared the sentiments and fears of the Lagos State governor, Akinwumi Adesina, minister of agriculture and rural development, believes that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that Nigeria will soon attain self-sufficiency in the area of food production. Adesina who was represented at the Agbeloba forum by Musibau Olowomuyiwa, director, rural development, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, spoke on the efforts of the federal government to ensure that Nigeria returns to the path of food self-sufficiency.

He said such efforts were responsible for the success that the President Goodluck Jonathan administration has recorded in revamping the process of fertiliser distribution in Nigeria. In addition to that, Adesina said the federal government has embarked on a major effort to extricate Nigeria from decades of dependency on rice imports. To achieve this, the minister said, “We set a target of being self-sufficient in rice by 2015. This is not a mirage. We are well on our way to achieving this goal. In 2012/2013, Nigeria produced over 1.7 million tonnes of paddy rice, about 50 per cent of the additional rice paddy needed to become self-sufficient in rice.”

In all, the minister said agriculture has become the new business in Nigeria. He said, “Today, bankers are leaving the banks and heading for agriculture. The new millionaires of Nigeria will be in agriculture. It is a new dawn.” That new dawn is perhaps what drew Olufemi Fabiyi, a young chemistry graduate, into farming. Today, he is chief executive officer of Ekiti Empire Feed Mill. “We produce feeds for over 46,000 broilers in the YCAD and I am now an employer of labour,” he revealed. His story simply signifies the new frontier that the Fayemi administration has opened for youths in Ekiti State.

Adejuwon Soyinka

Adejuwon Soyinka was former Deputy General Editor, TELL Magazine and Editor, www.tell.ng, the online publication of TELL Communications Limited

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