There is a popular refrain from a popular Yoruba song which is taught in schools. Ise agbe n’ise ile wa. The full lines of the song state that “Western education without basic knowledge of farming and other food production methods is inadequate because ours is an agrarian population. Those who refuse to work hard will resort to stealing”.
The lines of the above stated song apply more to Ogun State than most other states in our country in several ways. The state has 16,432 square kilometers of land, 80 percent of which is arable. As part of the state’s profile, it is noted that it has” evergreen forest vegetation and soil suitable for the cultivation of cash and food crops like cassava, rice, oil palm, cocoa, rubber, kolanut, pineapple, vegetables, cotton, cocoyam, citrus and banana”. What this translates to, is that the state is traditionally agrarian in nature and population.
Also, the third item on the five cardinal programme of the current administration in the state is increased agricultural production leading to industrialisation. In a more symbolic manner which demonstrates that Western education must go hand in hand with the knowledge and promotion of agriculture, the Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun appointed an urbane corporate lawyer, Mrs. Ronke Sokefun as commissioner in charge of the ministry with the responsibility to execute the plan to use agriculture as a means of creating wealth, generating employment among the teeming youths, increasing food production thereby eliminating hunger among the people.
As a good model, Sokefun has actually taken up the challenge by leading a team which is pursuing initiatives aimed at positioning the state as a food basket of the nation, dependable source of raw materials for agro-based industries and exporter ready to earn more foreign exchange.
The team has been discharging its roles by using investment in equipment, provision of technical, financial, material and advisory support to farmers, revival of inherited farm estates, creation of large state-owned demonstration farms through which they create employment, spread knowledge about new farming techniques and encourage partnership between government and farmers (both small and big). Other means through which the Amosun government is executing its increased agricultural production agenda are creation of a corps of graduate farmers who will serve as model employers for others to emulate and embrace farming, liberalisation of access to land by potential investors and partnership with the Federal Government to enhance agricultural production.
For instance, the state has embarked on an all-year round pullet rearing for sale to farmers aimed at replacing culled layers during all festivals. Thus, 75,000 pullets were reared. It is intended that the pullets would produce over 100 million eggs in a year. The pullet production programme will end up helping to achieve self sufficiency in poultry meat and egg production.
Also, the government has rehabilitated the Central Livestock Feeds Depot which had been moribund for 15 years. The feed mill has not only helped in achieving the pullet rearing plan, it is now the major supplier of feed to the 8000 layers owned by the 40 graduate farmers resident in the Owowo Farm Settlement.
There is also the Balekan Poultry Project which has been given a face-lift with increased capacity to produce a total of 3,866,383 eggs while the Oke Eri Poultry also owned by the government produces 1,175,051 eggs.
There is also an on-going beef multiplication project at Odeda which has successfully upgraded indigenous breed of cattle by crossing the Ndama and the White Fulani. This is aimed at helping local farmers to increase the population of their herd.
In the area of fish production, the Amosun administration has rehabilitated the three government fish farms located at Odeda, Ilaro and Ikenne, all of which have been in serious state of disuse in the past years. The pond reservoirs were then supplied fish seeds. Today, the three farms produce an average of 29 tons of table-size fish per annum. To increase the capacity of these fish farms, the government also constructed three new hatcheries with ability to produce an average of 500,000 fish seeds per year for sale to farmers at subsidised rate.
The government also installed modern smoking kilns for fish processing for the three fish farms. These have provided better opportunity for value addition in fish production. Again, the Amosun administration has provided basic implements for local farmers at subsidized rates. These include 13 outboard engines, 226 bundles of fishing nets, 1,111 rolls of twine and 4,444 floats. The facilities have helped to rejuvenate fish production and energise the local economy in riverine areas of the state.
Realising that during the golden era of the Western region when agriculture provided 67 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, cocoa, rubber and other tree crops were sources of the wealth, the department of tree crops and rural development was mandated to provide high quality seedlings and extension services to farmers. Thus, the department provided one million cocoa seedlings for farmers at no cost.
The ministry has established two hectares of cocoa seed garden at Alagbagba in Odeda local government while it has engaged in the cultivation of 50 hectares of cocoa in the same neighbourhood.
In the area of cassava production, the Ministry has a unit under its Agricultural Services Department called Cassava Revolution Programme which has helped to mobilize relevant stakeholders for the adoption of improved, high yielding, early maturing and disease resistant cassava varieties. The unit has since distributed 43,000 bundles of improved varieties of cassava cuttings to farmers under the GES. The government is set to install a high quality cassava flour plant in the state while it has also cultivated thousands of hectares of land for cassava so as to help in meeting the raw material needs of the proposed plant and other industries which are daily setting up shop in the state.
Apart from cassava, other farm produce which the state government has focused on, both in direct involvement and helping local farmers to increase their production capacity are rice, cotton, cashew and tomato. In fact, the government has invested heavily in establishing Green Technology farms for the production of tomato and pepper. The farms located in Kotopo provide employment opportunity for about 50 youths who are managing them. It also served as a centre for transfer of technology as there are now 30 others which sprang up across the state after learning from the government project.
The state government is also encouraging farmers through the purchase of land clearing equipment worth N600m which is hired to farmers at subsidized rate. This has made the job of ploughing, harrowing, slashing, planting, spraying and shelling very easy and affordable for farmers. Access to fertiliser has equally been made easy and cheaper. Also, farmers now get soft loans from the N1 billion facility from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) being administered by the state.
Other major projects embarked upon by the government for the benefit of the people are the cultivation of 50-hectare cashew farm located in Afon, 50-hectare rice plantation in Onidundu, another 50-hectare oil palm plantation in Ipokia and the partnership it entered into with the Malaysian Ministry of Agriculture for the development of 250 hectares of paddy paddy rice. These are projects that will change the face of food production in the state judging by the benefit that will accrue to the people.
It is also worthy of mentioning that the Ministry of Agricuture in Ogun State has created what it calls Oja Irorun, an outlet where public servants can shop for Agricultural produce at farm gate prices. A more elaborate version of this market is the beautiful edifice in Asero area of the state capital which is open to all members of the public. It is called Agric Mart or Oja Agbe.
More importantly, the government has consistently liberalized the process of obtaining land by investors in agriculture and agro-based industries. That is why the longest road being constructed by the government, the 107 Kilometre Ilara-Ijoun-Egua road, is aimed at opening up the many square kilometres of arable land in four local government areas of Ogun West senatorial district.
It is, however, necessary to mention the establishment of the Owowo Model Farm Estate in which 40 graduates were selected after a rigorous process and provided comfortable accommodation. The graduate farmers engage in various aspects of agricultural production including arable crop production, poultry and fish farming. They are demonstration agents to other educated youths that farming is not only for the unlearned rural people.
It is believed that with all these efforts and more that cannot be captured in this piece because of space constraint, Ogun is set to reclaim its lost glory as the nation’s most viable farming region.
• Olaniyonu is Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Ogun State.
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