The Governor of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Tuesday, said his administration would not relent on building solid foundation for future development through innovative agricultural practices.
He said the state would continue to tap from the numerous potentials in agriculture and make it viable to enhance the state’s economy.
Governor Aregbesola stated this while declaring open, a 2-day Stakeholders’ Workshop organized for farmers in the state by the State Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Youth Engagement, at Aurora Events Centre, Osogbo.
Aregbesola said the current economic realities called for urgent intervention by all governments and relevant stakeholders to revamp the decadence in agriculture and make it the mainstay of the nation’s economy.
He described agriculture as the only sustainable alternative to crude oil which according to him could no longer take the nation to promised land.
Governor said the state under his watch has succeeded in devising strategies to ensure that agriculture do not only feed the residents of the state but also help at providing jobs for the youths; creating wealth for the state and generating revenue for the government.
He said the agricultural policies of the state has really helped in providing best means for the sustenance of the state public school feeding programme called (O’MEALS) by which the state feed pupils in public schools on all school days.
In his bid to add greater values to farm produce in the state, Governor Aregbesola said the state has set a target of capturing at least five per cent of the Lagos food market after attaining self-sufficiency, saying “all we have been doing is laying the foundation for this ambitious project”.
He said his government has made available to farmers more than N2 billion zero interest loans in addition to yearly provision of farming inputs and additives.
According to him, “We set up Osun Rural Enterprise and Agriculture Programme (OREAP) for linkages, rural development, youth training, land preparation and access and so on.
“We have also sent two sets of youths to Germany for training in modern farming techniques. We have started a revolution in cocoa farming. We have mapped all the cocoa farms and counted all cocoa trees in the state.
“We have also set up other agencies like Osun Fisheries Outgrowers Production Scheme (OFOPS), O’HONEY, Osun Broilers Outgrowers Production Scheme (OBOPS) through which we made interventions and empower farmers, both big and small.
“We also established the Oloba Cattle Ranch in Iwo for cattle and ram fattening.
However, one big challenge of farming is farmers getting value for their money.
“We have revived the cocoa processing industry in Osun with an eye of producing globally competitive chocolates and other cocoa products”, he added.
Lamenting on the poor agricultural practice in Nigeria, Aregbesola said all hands must be on deck to bring innovation into agriculture with the input of scientific farming practices, cutting edge technology, diffusing ideas among others.
He said the time has come for Nigerian government to stop exporting primary products and start adding value to local products, adding that the value of a kilogramme of exported cocoa beans increases 5,000 per cent by the time it comes back as chocolate.
“After our inauguration on November 27, 2010, we conducted a survey in the markets in Osun and discovered that not less than 75 per cent of the food in our markets were imported, ranging from rice, grains, meat, fish and dairy products.
“But this is a bigger national malady. One of the reasons Nigeria lapsed into recession is that we can no longer finance our imports as a result of the precipitous drop in earnings from crude oil.
“This is against the backdrop of huge dependence on imports, including food.
For instance, we spend $20 billion every year to import food. This will include $700 million on fish. There are conflicting figures but the highest, from a former minister of commerce and industry, Engr. Charles Ugwuh, claims that we spend $2.6 billion annually to import rice while the CBN claims that our rice import bill for three years cost $2.4 billion.
“It will also include wheat, biscuits, noodles, dairy products, pastas, wines and other food items. Of course, there is no computation for the cost of grains, meat and processed food brought in from neighbouring countries of Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger Republic, Mali, Benin Republic, Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, Togo and Ghana.
“We should bring innovation to agriculture for farm produce to be converted into secondary products. For instance, our foods have remained the same from time immemorial. It is the same type of foods we derive from our crops in the past that we still do now.
“We must sensitize youths on the need to embrace farming as a way of life. We must farm. Everybody must see farming as the only prosperous means to sustain existence especially at this present economic hardship.
“The era of free money is ending. Govt will be forced to keep on reducing its workforce and if anyone’s services is not rewarding, such person will have no place in civil service and government payroll.
“Though we are facing this challenges because we have no alternative to crude oil.
Oil has lost its values in the market. In ten years time, oil will go back to its old prize of 40 cent per barrel.We must use the energy, zeal and intelligence of youths to drive agriculture”, Aregbesola added.
He called on agric experts to wage into the challenges confronting agriculture sector by devising ways through which farming can be more innovative, globally competitive and life sustainable.
Aregbesola charged nutritionists, food scientists and food technologists on the need to find better uses for the nation’s crops as coconut in some parts of the world has become big business, with candies, cosmetics, medicine and animal feeds providing an industry that is geometrically bigger than the old practice of just cracking the hard shell and eating the nut.
He said, “Our agriculture products are non-competitive because of extremely low productivity. While Nigeria and much of Africa are leading producers of cassava for instance, the traditional yield per hectare has been around 15 tonnes (Nigeria) and 10 tonnes (Africa) while global average in 2010 was put at 12.5 tonnes.
“However, India’s average yield in 2010 was 34.8 tonnes per hectares and Thailand’s yield is reported to be a whopping 120 tonnes per hectare.
“We shall begin new thinking in farming if we really want to be competitive by combining our intelligence, knowledge to be self sufficient in food and independent in food security and model for other countries.
“Agriculture is the gateway to industrialisation. No nation has ever become industrialised without first developing agriculture. This is because agriculture produces the primary raw materials for the agro-allied industries, pharmaceutical industry, building and construction, chemicals and paints, food and beverages, textile, clothing, leather and footwear, paper products and printing industry, and rubber products.
“From history, we have seen that agriculture revolution preceded Industrial Revolution in Britain, United States and Japan. Also, the development of the knowledge to produce crops, plants and trees goes parri passu with the knowledge to process and to use the products and their bye-products. So knowledge in agriculture will lead to knowledge in other areas.
Earlier, the Coordinating Director, State Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Youth Engagement, Dr. Olusola Aluko, said the workshop was aimed at revolutionising agriculture in the state by targeting youths for meaningful engagement in profitable and sustainable farming enterprises.
He said the objectives of the stakeholders’ workshop was to evolve a holistic approach to meaningful, effective and sustainable agricultural development in the state.
According to him, “the workshop is to sensitize critical stakeholders on their expected roles on the attainment of the positive objectives made by the state.
He added, “this workshop is to also sensitize and prepare a two-hundred (200) participants which include selected youths from all the nine Federal Constituencies of the state, relevant staff of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Youth Engagement; Ministry of Commerce, Industries, Cooperatives and Empowerment; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning; All Heads of Agriculture department of the 61 LCDAs/LCDAs/AOs.
“We therefore put up this workshop to develop a robust policy framework for the attainment of government’s goals on agriculture sector as this workshop will prepare and enhance the value-chain of small-holders and specialized groups, thus making agricultural practice attractive to youths in the state, while fusing up with the agenda thrust of the present administration in banishing hunger, poverty and unemployment in the state.
He commended Governor Aregbesola for his unflinching efforts at transforming the state into a food basket of the southwest and Nigeria as a whole.
Aluko said the state determination to banish hunger and poverty is unparallel in view of the achievements recorded by the administration of Governor Aregbesola in the last six years especially in the areas of youths empowerment, various agricultural programmes and supports for farmers.