NIGERIA'S march towards food sufficiency received a boost last week when the Kwara State Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed signed an MoU for a joint venture with Valsolar Consortium of Spain for a N70 billion rice cultivation, processing and packaging plant in the state.
For Ahmed, the project was a major bost for his efforts to position Kwara as an investment destination and to upscale commercial farming in the state, following the success of the Shonga Farm project. For Ahmed, the project was an opurtunity to leverage on Kwara's agricultural resources as well as boost efforts aimed at ensuring food security for Kwarans and indeed Nigerian as a whole.
Kwara is set to start producing Rice in commercial quantities with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Rice cultivation, processing and packaging with Vasolar Consortium of Spain. This is against the back drop of litany of challenges faced by local rice farmers.
Before now, the Shonga Farm project initiated by the immediate past administration of Dr. Abubakar Saraki of which Ahmed was a part had gained worldwide rcommendation and acknowledgment over its tremendous successes which by and large can be seen as a model today for other commercial farmers in the country.
In his mission to sustain and consolidate the gains of the previous administration through a workable program that will grow the economy of the state by providing job opportunity for the people through Agriculture, provide food for the people, alleviate poverty and industrialize the state, Ahmed entered into an agreement with Vasolar Consortium which will provide a total capital of N70billion over a period of four years while the State government is expected to provide seven million euros and 20,000 hectares of land of which 5,000 hectares will be cultivated yearly.
Government Ahmed while signing the MoU at the Government House Ilorin recently described the project as another giant step of his administration towards effective governance. The Governor explained that his administration came in with a clear decision at inception to take advantage of the state strengths in Agriculture in the collective interest of the people.
The implication of this singular feat is that a lot of foreign exchange been used by the country in importing rice from abroad would be channelled to the sustenance and development of indigenous companies, therefore, ensuring continuous job creation for our youths.
Ahmed decried a situation where the country expends about 26 billion dollars on rice importation annually, stressing that if such amount is put into local cultivation of rice, a lot more economic transformation would me witnessed in the Agricultural sector.
This revelation did not come as a surprise. For a long time, people know that thing is no longer at ease in the Agricultural sector. It is also an undeniable fact that the country has become one of the largest importers of food in the world.
The dependent of Nigeria on importation of food, without that taking any pragmatic step to reclaim the lost glory in the sector is already taking its toll on the citizens as inflation keeps to the fast lane as Nigerians bemoan the persistence increase in food prices.
The challenges and hazards rice farmers face are believed to be mainly due to the fact they do not enjoy any subversion from Government, a situation that leaves many farmers frustrated, often abandoning their farms. In many cases, rice farmers have deserted their farms and sold their farms land to property developers.
To a handful of others, still cultivating rice, life is anything but easy. Farmers manually harvest and thresh rice by heaping the stalks containing seeds on a spread mat while workers thresh. This is time wasting and tiring. Yet, in spite of the tough challenges some are undaunted.
And being the first state to embrace the value change management currently canvassed in the Federal Government's Agricultural transformation agenda, Governor Ahmed has pleaded for support in the area of funding and irrigation to allow cropping farmers in the State to farm all-year-round.
Ahmed has solicited for tariff reduction to stimulate local production of rice in the state and has also asked the Consortium to support the Shonga farm project which is also engaged in crop farming. A major variable crop cultivated includes Soya beans, Cassava, Corn, Sorghum and Rice.
This concept of development drive as a task for all and every citizens expected to be a change agent is reinvigorated in Ahmed's appreciation to the Royal fathers for their support to the state government to develop Agriculture to commercial level, adding that the desire to partner with Vasolar Consortium was because of its expertise in rice production.
In deed, to all intents and purposes, the Kwara State government had given approval last October to commence discussion with Vasolar Consortium of Spain.
According to the Senior Special Assistant on investment to the Governor, Mr. Yomi Ogunshola, 5,000 hectares of land would be allocated yearly by the government with each module yielding about 40,000 tons of rice per hectare annually.
Ogunshola also informed that part of the MoU will afford local rice farmer to go Spain to seek foreign training and expertise to further assist them to improve their farm yield. One other advantage Ogunshola further stated that the Consortium apart from farming would also be providing technical training to indigenous farmers on the use of modern technology.
The Chairman of Vasolar Consortium, Mr. Niguel Galland Marcias appreciated the State government for the initiative and urge farmers in the state to imbibe modern Agricultural techniques in the development of Agriculture. Marcias also appealed to Governor Ahmed to visit Spain to see what Vasolar is doing there, while also assuring him of their commitment to the terms of the MoU.
In a similar vein, the Group Managing Director, GMD, of Guarantee Trust Bank GTB, expressed the commitment of his bank to the noble initiative and its readiness to partner with the state government to encourage import substitution, provide employment and the development of infrastructure.
The project, according to Governor Ahmed, would be sited close to River Niger in Patigi, Edu and Irepodun Local Government Areas.
These river banks communities are expected to witness modern Agriculture. A gradual development in terms of infrastructure in the areas of Schools, Health Centers, Rural Electrification and Rural Road Networks are some of the advantages that would accompany the success of the project.