Rural dwellers and residents in Ondo State have called on contestants in the coming governorship election to prioritise rural infrastructure such as road networks, farm mechanisation, dam construction for irrigation and processing facilities that could really drive crop production, value addition and economic benefits.
Segun Olaniyi, a school leaver and cocoa farmer in Ile-Oluji, a major cocoa-producing area of the state, said rural roads, healthcare facilities and farm support infrastructure were lacking in most rural areas of the state. This, he argued, hampers food production potential of the state.
Since the creation of Ondo State on February 6, 1976, agriculture has been the mainstay of the peoples’ economy from the mangrove-swamp forest near the Bight of Benin, tropical rainforest in the central part and the wooded savanna on the hills in the north.
However, successive governments abandoned the agric sector and potentialities available, especially in chief cash crops like cocoa, palm oil, coffee, cotton, tobacco, rubber, timber; animal production like cattle rearing; and food crops such as rice, yam, cassava and maize, just to mention few.
Fortunately, the global crunch in oil makes the Federal Government to look towards agriculture as a viable alternative to diversify the economy, without leaving Ondo State out of the trend, hence the bid to revive the sector.
As the state is preparing for the governorship election on Saturday, most of the 17 candidates participating in the poll revolve their campaigns on the opportunities and prospects available in the sector, while the incumbent governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, says he will consolidate the gains achieved so far in agriculture.
The Deputy Governor and candidate of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Agboola Ajayi, said he would embark on large-scale impact assessment to bring agriculture back to its glorious days before the discovery of oil.
Ajayi hinged his agricultural policies on the past achievements made by the National Leader of ZLP, Mimiko, who initiated the Cocoa Revolution Project (CRP) to regain its lost glory as the state with highest productivity and quality in the country.
Successive governments have abandoned the economic potential of aquatic and fishery resources available in large commercial quantities in the riverine areas of the state, mainly Ilaje and Ese-odo local government areas. Igbokada, the headquarters of Ilaje council, has the longest and best territorial water in Nigeria, but neglected.
Fishing is the main agricultural occupation of the riverine people, who have over 1000 communities established along the coastline, but are suffering from abandonment by the federal and state government.
The ZLP candidate, who hails from Ese-Odo, assured that the state would seek local and foreign investors to revive the fishing terminal situated in Igbokoda, which has the biggest fishing market in West Africa.
Similarly, the governorship candidate of the major opposition party, Eyitayo Jegede, also identified agriculture as a viable sector to revamp the economy of the state and provide employment opportunities for the army of unemployed youths.
According to him, concerted efforts will be made to cultivate in commercial rates cash crops such as cocoa, oil palm, rubber, cassava, plantain, rice, beans etc as well as poultry; as food and exports to other countries.
Jegede added that fisheries and animal husbandry would be given institutional support by his government if elected as governor to boost production and income of farmers; while agro-allied cottage industries, including animal feeds and concentrates production, would be driven by private-public partnership.
Apart from massive infrastructural investment in agriculture and knowledge transfer, he pledged to provide access to sustainable agricultural credit at a single digit interest rate for farmers, saying: “Farmstead roads will be constructed by engineers in the state Ministry of Works and all its agencies for easy transportation of farm produce to the markets.”
Meanwhile, Akeredolu claimed that he had tremendously redirected the interest of the youths towards agriculture across the 18 local government areas of the state, creating successful agri-preneurs through his ‘Youths on the Ridges’ initiative that targets 1000 youths per council.
Maximising the value chain opportunities and linkages available in the sector, the state government said it had partnered with several local, national and international organisations to improve agriculture and end poverty in the state.
One of such is partnership with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to establish the cassava-to-ethanol factory in Okeluse, Ifon LGA of the state, which, the government said, would create over 12,000 jobs directly and engaging over 200,000 farmers within and outside the state.
Besides, the Ondo-Linyi Industrial Hub in Ore, the headquarters of Odigbo Local Government Area of the state, serves as processing and manufacturing aspects to utilise the value chains opportunities of agriculture in the state, the governor said.
Recently, a chocolate factory in Idanre, a partnership initiated by former Governor Mimiko with a United States-based firm, Spagnvola Chocolatiers, was completed and commissioned by Akeredolu. It is estimated to worth N9 billion and would produce 2.8 million tonnes of chocolate annually.
“I want to change our narrative. Enough of Ondo being tagged as a civil service state. We are a hidden wealth of Nigeria. We shall explore all our potentials. By the grace of God, I will work to hand over a State that does not rely on allocation to pay salaries by year 2024,” the governor had said.
He explained that, “To guarantee constant supply of cocoa beans to the factory, the Oda Cocoa Plantation, which is over 1,744 hectares, has been resuscitated and made functional with over 250 cocoa farmers upscaling daily production from the farm.
“To consolidate our foothold as the number one cocoa producer in Nigeria, this administration has established a modern cocoa farm at Ijugbere Camp in Ilale, Owo, on 8,400 hectares of land with the capacity to accommodate 2,000 youths who would be resident on the farm with a minimum of four hectares of land per person.”
While flagging off the Sunshine Food Processing Concept Ltd, the factory for the N4.2 billion pasteurised and liquid egg processing project at Emure-Ile, Owo LGA of the state, the governor noted that it would save Nigeria of $34.5 billion pressure on foreign exchange annually.
Besides giving the naira more value, he added that the investment would create no fewer than 10,000 direct jobs for job seekers as 500,000 eggs would be needed daily for the operation of the industry.
He also mentioned that the industry would be the biggest ever in the state when completed, urging farmers to start investing in poultry farming so as to provide the raw materials for its operation.
However, residents and rural dwellers in the state have called on the candidates, including the incumbent, to rapidly develop rural infrastructure such as road networks, healthcare facilities and robust education to cater for the needs of farmers and their families, as well as to attract younger generations of farmers.
Most rural roads in Ile-Oluji/Oke-Igbo Local Government and Odigbo Local Government area, two dominant cocoa producing areas of the state, are in deplorable conditions. Over 80 per cent of rural communities also depend on well and streams as sources of drinking water.
They call on the government to boost the agricultural sector through rural infrastructural development.