In this interview with WALE AKINSELURE, Oyo State commissioner for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, Mr Oyewole Oyewumi, speaks on the Oyo State agricultural initiative (AgricOyo) launched about a year ago, and other plans of government to maximise the state’s potential in agriculture.
It’s ten months since the Oyo State Agricultural Initiative, also called Agric Oyo project, was launched in Paago, Iseyin. At the launch, Governor Abiola Ajimobi talked about 10,000 hectares of land to be deployed to use in each of the 28 agrarian local governments and that one million youths would be employed. How much dividends has the project yielded so far?
Agriculture is a major pivot in the state government’s drive to revamp and expand the economy of the state. Agriculture will ensure adequate food supply, especially, food security, generating employment for mostly the youths and other segments of the society. It was in the light of agriculture being a major programme of government that the AgricOyo was launched about one year ago.
Land is a major asset in this state and the intent of the initiative is to tap into this potential and make it a productive asset. The project was launched with maize in Paago, and in collaboration of the 28 agrarian local governments in the state, who are supposed to contribute land. The maize planted then has been harvested and is in storage, ready for processing. About 200 hectares of maize were planted at Iseyin, Irepo, Saki East, Saki West and Olorunsogo local government. About 500 hectares of cassava was planted in 14 local governments. We did about 300 hectares in 10 local governments. And, we did 15 hectares of vegetable in one local government.
Let me make this clarification that the one million people are to be employed along the agriculture value chain, not necessarily as farmers. The agricultural value chain covers not just crop planting and harvesting, but other areas like storage, haulage, processing and marketing. We are looking employing that number of people across that value chain and over a period of time. We are not saying that within one year, all that number of persons would be employed. We have not met the targets we have set for ourselves but we have done fairly well considering certain challenges that we have discovered along the line.
What are these challenges?
One of the major challenges is access to land. This is in the sense that we needed the cooperation of the various communities, various families across the state to buy into this programme. We are engaging them in an advocacy and sensitization programme, as we go along. Naturally, land has been very sensitive in this part of the world such that whenever government brings a programme, there is the tendency for people to think that government wants to take their land. So, we have had to engage our communities to make them realize that land is our own oil. We understand that the land is owned by their fathers and grandfathers but we have reached a point where it is not enough to own a land, but the land must be put to productive use. The state is introducing zero tolerance for idle arable land. We are encouraging our communities and the various land owning or holding families to make available their land either by cultivating them and we provide incentives for them or they find a way of collaborating with investors or partners. And we have listed options under which they can participate. If you are not cultivating the land yourself, you can lease it out. You can also be involved in out growers’ scheme or you can sell the land.
There is also the option of royalties where you get some people to farm on your land whereby you take a portion and they take a portion. You can do a mix of all these. If you come in as an investor and need 1,000 hectares of land, maybe to feed your processing plant or factory with for example, cassava, to produce gaari, cassava flour or industrial starch and other by-products, you may request a minimum of 5,000 hectares of land. We have more than enough. But then, in your relationship with the various land owners, you may lease some, buy some and do out growers scheme. The idea is for cassava to grow across 5,000 hectares.
Oyo State boosts of over 28,000 square kilometres of arable land which some observe is largely underutilized. The state has great prospects in the production of cassava, maize, aquaculture and poultry. What are your projections towards maximizing production in these areas of great prospects?
Oyo State is the largest producer of cassava in Nigeria. In 2015, we produced about 3.86 million metric tonnes and we are looking to produce about 5.1 million metric tonnes this year. Apart from the private sector cassava growers, we are also mobilizing farmers under the federal government’s FADAMA programme and Anchor borrowers programme and our Oyo state agricultural initiative. We are also working on extension services, by training and deploying some of the federal government 1,200 N-power beneficiaries that have been deployed to ministry of agric in Oyo State for extension services. We have also introduced rice and vegetables, apart from maize and cassava.
Oyo State can arguably be said to be the largest producer of poultry products in Nigeria. We have quite a number of large poultry producers in the state. We are making use of our existing facilities like dams and forest reserves that are contiguous to some of the land already held by the state. We are expecting a growth rate of 100 to 200 percent in the next one year in poultry, aquaculture and vegetables. Agriculture has a long gestation period, you are not likely to see the benefits of all these efforts for another two or three years. We are gratified with the fact that even if government in the past did not focus on agriculture, we now have our focus directed to this potential that we have had for so long.
What is the place of the many agriculture research institutes in the state in this government’s agriculture initiative?
The role of research and development and the support we are getting from national multilateral development agencies like USAID, Melinda gates foundation are critical in the government’s development programme. We are working in collaboration with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in accessing improved seedlings. We are working with Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) for improved seedlings. We are working with National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT) in the area of vegetables development.
We are also discussing about business processes in the agricultural sector- how to invest, how to develop into agro-preneurs. We also have Rural Community Development Centre (RCDC) Awe, Oyo state, which is a farm training institute owned by Oyo state government.
It has been moribund for a while and we visited the site about a month ago, and plan to revamp it to provide training for young agric enthusiasts and retired people who can go in for three to six months programme to learn agricultural practices, management and business which they can apply.
This covers may areas from livestock produce to crops production, poultry. The RCDC has facilities for accommodation which the state government is developing a sustainable model of retaining it as a training institute. We expect to train about 500 persons in different batches per annum to support the agric value chain.
Recently, we constituted the National Seed Committee in accordance with the directive of the federal ministry of agriculture, to ensure availability of good improved seedlings. In terms of farm mechanization, we are working to ensure that tractors and other farm equipment are adequate and properly maintained. We are also looking at new ways of ensuring access to agriculture mechanical equipment through Uber tractors, and are collaborating with a foreign company for that.
In terms of provision of storage facilities, when will the promised silo in each of the three senatorial districts of the state be actualised?
As regards grains storage, the state has invested in the setting up of a 10,000 metric tonnes silo at Awe, which is nearing completion. We hope that by the end of June, the governor will declare open the silo for use for farmers across the state. We also have another silo, here in Ibadan, but currently owned by the federal government. We are engaging the federal government to release the silo for use by our farmers in the state.