Babajide Arowosafe said that the Kayode Fayemi-led administration has empowered several youths through its Youth in Commercial Agriculture and Development, YCAD, project to become employers of labour across different segments of the sector.
How well has the agriculture sector fared during the administration of Governor Fayemi?
We met a terrible system on ground. We met a sector that was completely down and was not driven by developmental initiatives. People just wanted to do agriculture for the mere fact that their fathers or grandfathers used to do agriculture. That was what we met on ground. The system was highly disjointed and there was no agri-business going on. We met field operation in terms of tree crops, plantation that were as old as my grandfather’s age and that made productivity to be completely low. The sector was not doing the proper thing on cultivation, no proper scheme, no proper input in terms of agro-chemical. Those were the major issues for me when I came on board but everything has changed now.
Today, we have created a platform for modern agriculture and we use that to engage people economically in Ekiti State and make them to be economically independent to the point that they begin to add value to the economy of Ekiti State in terms of revolution. That is what the AGENDA 3 of Governor Fayemi is set to achieve. For us to achieve this there are some crops of high importance that this current administration is focusing on. They are cocoa, cassava, rice which are crops of high value and on livestock like aquaculture, poultry production most especially broiler production. That is what the AGENDA 3 is all about. We have been able to sensitise the youths into agriculture, which is a task for the federal system. Ekiti State has moved fast in impacting a lot of youth to occupy a space in agriculture.
How has this administration supported the aging population of farmers in the state and what level have you taken them to?
To get the aging population of farmer is to support them to make good things from their effort in terms of agro-chemical, good training to enable them to know how to do their production well, fertiliser, and financial assistance for production. For example, rice, when this administration came on board, we introduced rice expansion programme where we gathered most of the rice farmers in Ekiti State and we had an agreement with them that the government is ready to support them fully if they are ready to step up their production. So rather than farming on 0.5 hectares, we moved them to doing five hectares minimum and we gave them the necessary input to do that. Everything they got was supplied by the state government to the point of giving them fund to drive their operations on field. It appeared like it was not going to work at first but now some are doing 10 hectares. We have in Ekiti State some rice farmers doing 100 hectares now. So we have been able to move the system from where we met it to a better system that it used to be in 60s and 70s.
For cocoa, before this administration came on board, we had been going to Ondo State to purchase cocoa seedlings to give our farmers but in 2012 the cocoa seedlings that we actually gave out to farmers in Ekiti were from Ekiti, by our youths because we are on the field. We have nursery operations owned by our youths in the state. This year alone, we are just about giving out close to 120,000 oil palm seedlings. We already have close to 353,000 cocoa seedlings, which is to be given out in the later part of the year and soon we will be giving out close to 150,000 of seedlings just for our forestry operation. This was not the case in the past; we used to buy the seedlings from other states. Now we have what will make the youth and farmers understand the importance of going into this venture and getting involve with it. This is one of the successes that the current administration has achieved.
When we started, people kept telling us that the youth would never be ready to go into agriculture because they tried it at the federal level it didn’t work and some other administrations. What we did was create a thorough enabling environment for them. We decided we were not going to do agriculture that will not put money in their pocket as fast as they want. The process of selecting the youth was more or less like they were going to work in the bank, it was a thorough competitive process even though there were different categories of people. We also made it clear to them that the programme should be something that will set them to the path of life and economy figure. We got them involved with the YCAD programme, especially those with entrepreneur spirit. They must be committed. We gave them an expandable credit facility of a minimum of N1.4 million. What that means is that it will have the absorbing capacity to do N50 million, this government will give you but we do not give cash.
We opened up lands, making it tractor-able and making ready for thorough modernisation of agric production. We made the land available for them and give access to credit facility, which is a minimum of N1.4 million. We also went to discuss with suppliers of agric input that can give us thorough discounted rates on their products and supply directly to the participants without middlemen and that reduces their cost of production. We showed the youth how to make gains from agriculture. The ministry capacity also monitored and supported them with good service. We acquired some tractors and other equipment for them to do thorough agriculture. That is on the arable side. Now, they have acquired about eight tractors on their own when they form a cooperative.
When we started we were using the ministry’s tractor; you come, use the tractor on your farm, which was an avenue for the state government to generate revenue. We have never used our tractors the way we used them in 2013. The planting season is around now and the youth cooperative, at least eight tractors at the range of close to N90 million, bought the tractors we have now though we supported them. We gave them the credit facility through FADAMA and the tax fund to acquire necessary assets to do proper commercial operation. We met youths that were not interested in agriculture but now, the youth under YCAD are doing 10–15 hectares, 100 hectares of arable production in Ekiti State.
How many jobs has this initiative generated?
Under the direct engagement of YCAD, beneficiaries of YCAD, we have close to 450 of them. If you have five hectares of land you will need at least five people working with you on the farm and the ones that have 100 hectares plantation also have people working with them. For indirect beneficiaries we have close to 9,500 because the more you modernise, the more hands needed. When we came on board Ekiti State was not known as a livestock state but now we are taking all stage aggressively within the livestock production and processing.
It is a small processing plan but it speaks volume. Most of the eateries in Akure are consuming birds from Ekiti State. When we started the YCAD livestock programme, which was the last component, we were doing production only and it got almost to a point that we had almost 15,000 birds that we took to Ibadan and Lagos to sell. We are trying to start a new component known as YCAD processing. Now, it is the YCAD participants that oversee the projects but ministry’s staff monitor it.
Ekiti is known to be blessed with yam. But you did not mention yam plantation in the YCAD plan of the state government?
Yam is normal for us and we support the farmers that are into it with necessary input to expand their yam production capacity. There are some crops that we call high valued crops that we concentrate on like cocoa, rice, cassava, oil palm, and yam comes just in a season so we expand the capacity of existing farmers.
Have you been able to meet the demand for farm produce in Ekiti State before you talk of export?
When we came on board, Governor Fayemi announced to the world that Ekiti State would be the food basket of the South-west. Though it appeared like a joke, today every day a minimum of 30 tonnes of cassava leaves the state to other industries outside the state. Our 2013 operation will be harvested in July 2014. When we came on board, there is a company called Markna, in Ondo State, our farmers would take their cassava to the gate of the company to negotiate for prices of the tubers. Today, we have turned that around. The company and ELI in Anambra State come to Ekiti State to pull our cassava tubers to their states. We can feed ourselves and because we have excess we are feeding other states.
Another example is rice; the rice expansion programme is producing results too. Last week, two northern outfits came to us to negotiate the price for our rice parley. With our rice expansion programme, we have a huge sum of rice parley that our own factories/market cannot consume in a year. We feed factories from the North because of the way we went about the programme. We have premium rice that is being demanded massively outside Ekiti State. We support farmers and processors on the production side to process with premium quality. You can’t find stones in our rice. People come from Abuja, Ibadan and Ondo State for the rice. People know that this is healthier than the imported ones.
It comes back to us as tax from the processors and other stakeholders. In 2012 when we started the YCAD, this ministry went into land preparation for the YCAD operations and we were able to do 30 million hectares for the operators. The rate at which investors come to Ekiti State is high because of the commitment of the current administration and they are adding value to the state in terms of revenue. An institution that is taking position in the state called SMS farm and they just paid N40 million just to do commercial farming in Ekiti. We also introduced a programme called the Land Bank project where commercial investors come in to take position in the state. That N40 million is just part payment. What this current administration has done is to set the platform and foundation for thorough commercial agriculture that will stream in revenue and solid income for the state. It will give a thorough basis for thorough job creation inclusiveness. There is an institution called Rubber Estate Nigeria. We have an arrangement with Rubber Estate Nigeria Limited, an agro-allied firm, to posses land in Ekiti State for their operations. That land alone has fetched the state about N24 million, not to talk of grant that will be paid on the land annually. Investors are coming in because they have seen the commitment of this administration; they are adding value to the state in terms of revenue.
What is the contribution of the agricultural sector to the internally generated revenue of the state?
We want to be contributing 50 per cent of our IGR and we are close to that. We are currently on 30–35 per cent but we are hoping to increase it to 50 per cent by end of this year. The landmark programme is huge revenue called huge cash centre. With this cropping season, a Dutch agric development and trading company is taking position in terms of processing and rubber institution, which are coming in to contribute heavily to our revenue in Ekiti State. The ministry’s contribution to the IGR was close to zero before we came in. Between January and March 2014, we have generated over N1 million from tractor leasing alone. The preparation for YCAD alone, we generated close to N25 million. Over 15 years of existence of this state, this ministry has never generated over N1 million from tractor leasing. We have never had Land Bank programme like this. Before now, lands were being given in 10,000 hectares batches free of charge and those investors never operated on those lands but this administration came on board and introduced a Land Bank programme. SMS, Lagos, just dropped a cheque of first instalment of about N40 million for land. If you get land free of charge, you are not bound to do anything on the land but if you are paying first instalment of N40 million, you will be forced to come and do something on the land. That is the level of investments Fayemi has attracted to the state. It is very strategic for us to understand why this administration is pushing for a second term heavily. In agriculture, we don’t do by the side of the road projects but to build a foundation for the super structure and that is why we are seeking that continuity.
What are your plans to ensure YCAD outlives this administration?
There is this slogan that says ‘good thinking, good product’. That is what you get when you have a focused leader like Dr Fayemi. He tried to draw a thin line between politics and governance and when it comes to governance he does what I call a thorough inclusive arrangement to build right set of people to drive the economy of the state. For the YCAD, the youth own those businesses, it is like they are working outside the government system. What we did was to establish the youth outside the government system to command and drive the economic system of the state. That is where the sustainability is in the state.
If this administration leaves and the next administration scraps the Ministry of Agriculture, will the investment of the YCAD operators be intact and will they be able to feed this state?
We have been able to entrench their businesses within their own confine. Each of them has a relationship with the banks, so the banks monitor their activities like the inflow and outflow of funds. Some of the banks are First Bank, Ecobank. One of the successes of YCAD is that today, I have N250 million that Bank of Industry, BoI, has offered the participants. That the state government did not negotiate fund, it was BoI that went to the field and was impressed by what they saw and offered their cooperative the fund for expansion. Without government involvement, YCAD will continue to exist. It will continue to be. Recently, we wanted to buy some birds from them, they insisted that the birds are theirs and asked us to come and negotiate the prices with them. Five or 10 years down the line, we want them to use their energy to command the economy of the state and contribute value to the economy of the state. That is the vision of Fayemi.
How will you describe Fayemi? What kind of leader is he?
I will describe him as a stubborn leader, somebody that insists always that there must be a change not only in Ekiti State but Nigeria. For change to happen in Nigeria there are some things and stands that we must take, he is one of the few leaders in this country that have focus and standing in those stands to ensure that the change happens. He maintains what will bring the change. He is a very focused leader and he listens to everybody; that is the greatest quality a good leader that will deliver result must have. I do not have the patience that he has but have learnt a lot from him. He brings out sense in any jargon. He is so focused to develop the state. He is comprehensive in thought, deep in strategy to ensure that the development comes with growth. Every of his strategy will always have inclusiveness that brings about growth.
We had a meeting with the YCAD operators and I sat with the youths and was feeling happy because when I came on board if I ask any youth in Ekiti anything, he will say I am a politician, politics is good, but if you do not have a part in economy, you can not have a say. There is a change now. He is doing a thorough reorientation for the citizens of Ekiti State. That is where my challenge is that once beaten twice shy, Ekiti State has been bitten once, we should be very careful not to fall into the hands of people I call ‘OJELU’. Fayemi is a thorough ‘OSHELU’. We should be very careful because of the level of poverty in Nigeria. That is my own advice to the state. Beyond Ekiti State, I see Fayemi as someone who needs to dip himself into the centre and deliver Nigeria.