By Magnus Eze
Last week, a delegation of the Ijebu Development Initiative on Poverty Reduction (IDIPR), led by the Board Chairman, Prof. Olanipekun Alausa, came from Eriwe village in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State, to Abuja, the nation’s capital, to interact with authorities of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
As renowned fish farmers, they came with cartons of dried fish as a show of hospitality, the agricultural produce that had made the organisation the pride of Africa, the community having, arguably, the largest fish clusters in the world.
Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who received the delegation, showered encomiums on them on behalf of the Federal Government for contributing to fish production in the country and advised other states to emulate the agricultural initiative.
Lokpobiri described Ijebu community as the pride of Africa in the production of fish.
“When we came last two years, Nigeria was producing about 700,000 tonnes of fish but this has increased to about 1.1 million tonnes, which means that there has been an increment of 400 tonnes and the rise in the statistics was attributed to the contribution of Ijebu community,” he said.
According to the minister, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had described Ijebu as having the highest number of fish clusters in the world and expressed happiness that other Nigerians like Bayelsa people were coming to Ijebu community to learn fish farming in order to leverage on their water bodies: “This is not a case where the fish is brought from other areas to come and sell in a particular market. The fish is produced right there in Ijebu Ode and that is why the FAO said this is commendable; it’s a model that is recommended for the whole world.”
Lokpobiri put the current deficit in fish in Nigeria at over two million tonnes and urged Nigerians to invest so as to boost fish production and create jobs in the agriculture sector. He added that the Federal Government has a mandate to increase investments in agriculture as alternative to oil, stressing that the ministry was ready to support all farmers.
The minister said, “We realised that fish import was no longer sustainable and what we did was to encourage those that imported it to think of backward integration by reducing the quota year by year in agreement with the CBN. Very soon, we are not going to give quota for fish importation. We want everybody to set up their fish farms, employ our people and create jobs for our people.”
He said government would soon complete and inaugurate the fish feed mill located in Eriwe village, while appreciable number of smoking kilns would be given to them to boost their fish production.
Director of fisheries in the ministry, Muazu Mohammed, disclosed that the fish feed mill, which was completed in 2012, was not handed over by the contractor because he was owed N25 million, which Lokpobiri said would soon be paid; he also promised that the ministry would accommodate development of rural roads for the farming community to enhance their productivity in the 2018 budget.
Earlier in his remarks, the chairman of the board of directors of the initiative enumerated some challenges hindering the agricultural initiative to include lack of infrastructure such as roads, inadequate access to loans, and lack of modern tools for mechanised farming, among others.
“We want access roads in the farm villages, access to direct credit and government’s grants toward our poverty reduction programme. The change in the life of the poor is visible as the needs and well-being of women and other disadvantaged groups in our community are being met. Hundreds of young graduates now see agriculture as a thriving business and cluster innovation farming platform has been proved beyond doubt that it is capable of making a fortune,’’ the chairman said.
He averred that the scheme, which was established in 1999 as a non-governmental organisation, was geared towards community development to reduce poverty and improve the livelihood of people, using agriculture and micro-credit, among others.
Their areas of involvement are poultry, livestock, piggery, bee-keeping, all-season vegetables and cocoa farming, among others, deployed to ensure poverty reduction and contribute to agricultural development of the country.
According to Alausa, the initiative, which has 691 cooperative societies farming on 639 hectares of farmland, was currently supplying food items to nine local government areas in the state.
At the end of the programme, the Ijebu visitors untied their wares and presented neatly packed cartons of dried fish to the minister of state, directors, staff of the ministry and journalists present at the occasion.
They ensured that the Ijebu fish found its way into several homes in Abuja; including that of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, even in his absence.