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OPINION: Kwara: Using agriculture to Uplift Youths

Date: 2018-01-15


By now, it is obvious to all that Nigeria's economy is going through perhaps one of the most trying and challenging times in recent history. What seems to have compounded the problem is the monocultural nature of its economy which relies solely on petroleum resources as a major source of revenue. The lack of foresight by the nations’ leaders to diversify the economy over a long period of time is now taking its tolls on the only source of revenue which has been confronted with global glut. The economy of Kwara State, according to the Executive Governor of the State, Dr Abdulfatah Ahmed, cannot be insulated from the Nigerian economy. This is so because we have over a long time depended on the crude oil-driven economy. So, any change in the price of crude oil in the international market will naturally affect the economic activities of the entire nation. Things, therefore, have been very tough across the country bordering on joblessness and other unimaginable vices.

However, Kwara State under the able leadership of Dr Abdulfatah Ahmed has brought certain levels of intervention to the people of the state through the medium and small enterprise funding windows where entrepreneurs, small traders are made to access funds either under associations, groups or cooperatives to trade in their small businesses. But one critical angle took by the administration to change the economic environment of the state and create employment opportunity for the teeming youths, is driving agriculture. Agriculture is, therefore, one area that the administration has taken seriously as a means of creating jobs, the state has commenced a programme called the Off-Taker Demand Driven Agricultural Scheme (ODDA) which has engaged youths across the state in farming.

It was designed to begin to make youths move away from the so-called white caller jobs. The government in turn invested in land clearing, agricultural inputs, credit facilities, fertilizers, seedlings and land for farming. Also, road infrastructure is provided to enable the transportation of agricultural produce to urban centres.

The essence of ODDA scheme, nevertheless, is to guide participants from what they are producing to the ultimate consumer of their products and allow them to see the value chain that goes on in any typical production process. Interestingly, many youths in the state have keyed into the agricultural scheme thereby accessing funds meant for the scheme under the Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme (CACS) that the Federal Government made available through Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The sum of One billion naira was provided to the state by the Federal Government through CBN to fund the programme which gave birth to the ODDA initiative of the state government. About 800 farmers, including youths and farmers in the state have benefitted so far from the first stream. The scheme is expected to be upscaled this year while the state government will also benefit from another agricultural programme initiated by the Federal Government called the Anchor Borrowers Scheme which is another funding window by the Central Bank of Nigeria to raise another generation of farmers.

The Governor, Dr Abdulfatah Ahmed said: "As a state, we are not leaving any stone unturned to ensure that we take full advantage of the funding window created by the Central Bank to sensitise our youths on how agriculture can truly be seen as a wealth creation platform and also as a job-creating platform. I am happy that the response from the youths is quite encouraging".

He was optimistic that this year, all things being equal, the state will be upscaling and begin to grow sufficient maize, soya, cassava and other crops that will be used as a point of attraction for processing plants that would attract investors to the State. According to him, “Hopefully this year, we will be setting up an international seeds production centre in the state and would also be setting up an agro-chemical production centre in Kwara State. This means we can service the whole of the north and the whole of the south with these production programmes.

It would also give us the opportunity of having access to ready inputs to improve on our current agricultural programme. So, as a state, we are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that agriculture is the next level that would drive wealth creation and job creation. The current maize production in the state is probably less than 2.3tons per hectare. Those who are coming to give us inputs tell us that we can do up to between 6 and 10 tons per hectare. That will tell you that the state is poised to become the next destination for maize production not only in Nigeria but in West Africa Sub-region".

The State government has recently given approval for the establishment of a Farm Produce Commodity Board in order to address the issue of scarce commodities and curb inflation in the State. The disclosure was made at a press conference by the Honourable Commissioner for Information and Communications, Alhaji Mahmud Babatunde Ajeigbe at the end of the State Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, 10th January. The measure was taken by the government in order to boost commodity farm produce by farmers in the state especially in the areas of marketing and control of produce. This will protect the producers from the vagaries of price fluctuation, middlemen and hijackers of farm produce that usually result in hyperinflation. Though the Hon. Commissioner said it will be private sector driven but the aim and goal of government were to facilitate easy exchange of goods and services within the economic context of the state.

The establishment of the board is however expected to complement the efforts of the Off-Taker Demand Driver Agricultural Scheme (ODDA) and other agricultural schemes of the state government now or in the near future. According to the Hon. Commissioner for Information and Communications, Alhaji Mahmud Babatunde Ajeigbe, "the re-introduction of private-driven farm produce commodity board would help promote the agriculture business in the state. The board was revamped along current realities. The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice has been directed to send an executive bill to the State House of Assembly for the formal establishment of the Farm Produce Commodity Board".

Remember that Rome was not built in a day. Governor Ahmed has commenced a progressive move into a reduction of poverty and job creation. This is obvious in his approach to strengthening the informal sector of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) as a major driver of economic activities in the State. With the MSME, the administration, under which micro-credit funds are disbursed via microfinance banks to qualifying cooperative groups in the state have empowered and created jobs for hitherto unemployed or under-employed people. Similarly, the administration has engaged youths in a meaningful agricultural venture through the ODDA scheme. The value chain profession has attracted the interest of the youths across the length and breadth of the state and been of tremendous benefits to the parties.

It is just a question of time to see the implementation of the policy sprouted like a germinated crop. People just have to be patient with the government to allow the gains of the agricultural policy spread. The entire world is changing and Nigeria indeed Kwara State cannot be an exception to this progressive change. The federal government is striving to diversify the mono-cultural economy to an enduring and sustainable one. Governor Ahmed has keyed into this by his leadership style of holding or pulling the bull by the horns. His approach is pragmatic, sustainable and enduring only if given the benefit of doubt and necessary support. The government meant well and will fulfil all electoral promises with cooperation, support and compliance with policy directives.

The administration is trying its best to meet the aspirations of the people of the state as well as embark on agriculture policy to change the aspirations and fortunes of youths and the entire citizens of the state.

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