As circumstance dictates, there is now a renewed effort by the administration of Governor Dapo Abiodun to return Ogun State to the old glorious era when agriculture formed the major source of revenue for development. This is in line with the diversification policy agenda of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which is made imperative by the uncertainty surrounding the future of crude oil and gas as the country’s foreign exchange earner as well as the rising unemployment among the teeming populace.
It is also important to note that Nigeria, once a leading exporter of several agricultural products like cocoa, rubber, palm kernel and groundnut has lost her leading position in the exportation of these important agricultural commodities. During the oil boom era, between late 1970s and early 1980s, Nigeria shifted focus from agriculture to oil exports (Aigbekaen and Nwagbo, 1999; Adedipe et al, 1997). Ogun State as one of the leading producers of cocoa, rubber and palm oil lost its focus during the oil boom era of the early 1970s and 1980s.
The late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as the Premier of Western Nigeria, had laid the framework for sustainable agricultural revenue generation for the region, including Ogun State. During the era, Ibiade and Ikenne-Remo, among others, were reputable for natural rubber used in manufacturing of industrial products like tyres, footballs and other items. According to reports, both settlements had a total of about 1,377 hectares of rubber plantation.
Successive governments in the state, however, subsequently changed the narrative by willful neglect of the agricultural sector for oil money. Thus, upon inception, Governor Abiodun, realising the enormity of the challenge of youth employment, declared agriculture as the centre-piece of his economic agenda. His primary motivation for the policy option was not only to guarantee food self-sufficiency but also create jobs for the growing number of youths in the state, taking advantage of the huge market derivable from its proximity to Lagos.
He made this position known recently while receiving the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Mohammed Sabo Nanono, at his Oke Mosan, Abeokuta, recently. His words: “We are the Gateway State. We are the closest state to the biggest economy in this country. We have 16,000 sq kilometres of arable land out of 20,000 sq kilometres of our landmass.
“We have the people and most of them are looking for employment. Since we have the people and we have the market, we have no reasons not to turn Ogun State into the bread basket of this nation. And that is what inspired me. We decided that we must find our ways back to agriculture. This state is that of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, where we have rubber plantation; we have palm oil plantation; we have the popular Ofada rice and so on and so forth.”
Pursuant to the policy objective, the administration adopted the “Anchor Borrower” programme initiated by the Central Bank of Nigeria to facilitate its employment generation drive. According to Abiodun, no fewer than 40,000 people have been captured within six months of the operation of the policy, while the state government provided one hectre of land to each of the beneficiaries.
He further explained: “We realised that there is no other industries that could absorb the unemployed youths, except agriculture. We had to look around and we saw opportunities in one of the schemes of the Federal Government called “Anchor Borrowers” programme being operated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“I am glad to say that, between the last six months, we have enumerated 10,000 people in that “Anchor Borrowers’ programme. We have further 40,000 people that have been undergoing that scheme. On the part of government, we allocate one hectare of land each to them which we have done for the beneficiaries and then, match them with processors (Anchor Borrowers).”
As a popular Yoruba adage says, “when the issue of food for sustenance is resolved, poverty is already banished” (Ti ounje ba ti kuro ninu ise, ise buse). Accordingly, the state government resolved to embark on cassava scheme involving about 9,000 beneficiaries of ‘Anchor Borrowers’.
In order to achieve improved yield per hectre of cassava, the state government says it is leaving no stone unturned in the effort to evolve new varieties that would boost productivity not only for cassava but also other revenue earning produce like palm oil, rice and cotton, among others. “On the part of the government, we are looking at a more improved yield per hectare of cassava. And we have other anchors that we have subscribed to. We are quite excited about the opportunities that these present to us. We are growing cotton; growing rice; and we are resuscitating our palm oil plantation which has 6,000 hectares”, Abiodun disclosed.
One of the beneficiaries of the scheme, Mr Kehinde Soyode, speaking about his experience, commended the transparency of the selection process, saying it was devoid of party consideration. “I owe a debt of gratitude to Ogun State government for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this project. The selection process was transparent and without discrimination. I will appeal to my colleagues to reciprocate the gesture by ensuring that they make success of the opportunity to guarantee its continuity.”
Other than the scheme, Abiodun said, talk was also ongoing between the Ministry of Agriculture, on one hand, and the African Development Bank, on the other hand, to make Ogun State one of the two proposed processing zones in Nigeria. This is in addition to the planned take-off of the Federal Government’s agricultural mechanization initiative in some select 632 local governments, including Ogun State.
Abiodun, who could not hide his excitement about the whole idea, told the Minister, “it is so exciting to hear this from you. The President of the AfDB, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, was here at the turn of the year and he said they are going to have two processing zones in Nigeria and that they are coming to do one in Ogun State. Now, coming to hear your plans for 632 local governments of which Ogun State would be a beneficiary is so refreshing and so uplifting, particularly on the issue of agricultural mechanization. We will believe that this will be impactful because in our relationship with our farmers, we see these as the gaps that exist.”
However, concerns have been raised by the farmers on how to access improved varieties of cocoa and palm trees, noting the declining productivity of the already over aged trees. A middle-aged cocoa farmer in J4 area of Ijebu-Ode, Madasiru Adesoye, lamented the challenge, saying: “While in neighbouring countries like Ghana and Cote D’voire, new varieties of cocoa with harvest period of two and a half years have been developed for well over 20 years; we, farmers in Nigeria, are still grappling with old varieties with long gestation period of a minimum of five years.” He, therefore, called on the relevant authorities to come to their aid to overcome the challenge.