• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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We want to reduce unemployment in Kogi through agriculture – Commissioner

Maiskolben

Kehinde Oloruntoba, commissioner for Agriculture, Kogi State, in this interview with VICTORIA NNAKIAIKE, speaks on the efforts of the Yahaya Bello administration to fight poverty in the state by making agriculture attractive to the people, particularly, the youth. He says that the removal of middlemen chain in the distribution of fertilizer has made the product accessible to local farmers who are now increasing their productivity and by extension reducing unemployment in all the local government areas of the state. Excerpts:

What can you say are some of your achievements so far in the Ministry of Agriculture and what do you intend to leave behind as a legacy, not only in the ministry but in the state in general?

The Captain of the Ministry of Agriculture is Yahaya Bello; we are here to also help him to deliver his mandate to the good people of Kogi State as it affects agriculture. When His Excellency came to power, Ministry of Agriculture was in a complete mess; we did not have functioning machines, the environment was so dirty, staff morale was very low. There was no training; nothing was on ground. They were just paying lip service to agriculture. And when he came, he immediately accessed the situation on ground and subsequently declared state of emergency on agriculture because he made it very clear that agriculture will drive his economic policies, we will use agriculture to create job, create wealth and reduce crime. And after declaring emergency on agriculture, he had a stakeholders’ meeting with all farmers from the 21 local government areas of Kogi State where he heard from them firsthand what their challenges were, and based on the outcome of that town hall meeting he came out with practical solutions to some of the problems that were highlighted. The farmers requested for credit facilities, equipment to work with and they wanted the government to reduce unemployment and that there should be value addition to those primary products. Immediately, the governor approved money for the procurement tractors and other farming equipment. We have ADP in Felele and we are building rice mill in Yagba West to add value to rice produced in the state. Before now, rice that we produce in Kogi they used to sell it as paddy rice to people from Anambara and Edo states, who will go and mill it and call it their rice. But with the rice mill now, all of this will become things of the past. We are building warehouse at Osara, Kogi Central. We are working on 100 hectares of cashew in Kogi East.
We are also collaborating with Federal Government to build a cashew processing factory in Ayingba. We are engaging youths in agriculture through credit provided by Fadama and Anchor Borrowers Programmes. Thousands of the youth have also benefited from the three Senatorial Districts of the state. These are some of the programmes that we are working on to reposition agriculture in the state.

Read Also: Hoodlums invade ADP warehouse for palliatives in Kogi

Fadama said that Kogi has $20million grant but has claimed only $3million. Are there plans by the state government to claim the balance in the nearest future?

Thank you. The situation then is one of the things I highlighted that the previous administrations didn’t take advantage of some of the facilities they were given. As we speak today, that 3million USDollars has increased from three to 11 between that period and now we have been able to utilise another 8million USDollar grant to empower the youths. I can assure you by the special grace of God, before Fadama 111 Additional Financing winds up, we can even increase it to 20million USDollars.

You did mention carrying the youth along. How many have been empowered. And how many do you intend to lead to the empowerment seat?

Fadama 111 Additional Financing alone in the last quarter has empowered over 12,000. Anchor Borrowers Programmes has at least empowered over 2,000 youths in Kogi State. There is a new programme that is also coming on board which is Accelerated Agricultural Development Scheme (AADS). This will empower over 10,000 youths in Kogi State. Kogi has been slated as one of the states that will benefit from Appeal. The scheme also has the capacity of empowering over 10,000 youths and so many of such programmes that we are running simultaneously. We are very confident that in no distant time we will reduce unemployment significantly in the state.

What has your ministry been doing to make sure that fertilizer gets to the peasant farmers in the remote areas of the state?

His Excellency approved money to procure 200 tons of fertilizer to be sold to farmers at controlled price. And to the glory of God, this year we have succeeded in eliminating middlemen from fertilizer distribution. Fertilizer is available in our warehouses situated in four locations in Lokoja, Aiyetoro, Anyigba and Okene. Farmers now walk into any of these warehouses and buy fertilizer at original price that is N5,500 per a bag which is the recommended price by the Federal Government. We have been able to eliminate middlemen. Before now, during the planting season, middlemen would be flooding the Ministry of Agriculture to buy fertilizer. But now, the strategy we adopted has eliminated middlemen. For the first time, fertilizer reached the farmers at the real time because His Excellency has said he would not condone sharp practices. Whoever is found or caught doing that will not only be fired but will be made to face the wrath of the law. This massage is very clear and we in the agric ministry have internalised it and it has become our guiding principle.

What is your ministry doing with the Anchor Borrowers Programmes to make sure that, for instance, rice is surplus in the state? I am asking this question because some other states have brought down the price of rice to N10,000, N12,000 per 50kg bag?

I am just hearing from you now that they are selling rice N10,000 in some states. And even in Lagos State, you remember the other time they advertised and talked so much about unique rice, yet controlled price in Lagos then was N12,000, it was not even available. That is by the way. We grow a lot of rice in Kogi. You go to Ibaji, Bassa, Idah, particularly in Kogi East, we grow a lot of rice. The major challenge we have had is that of a mill to process whatever rice we plant in Kogi. And like I said to you, we are building a 50-ton per day rice mill which will take care of the challenges. As soon as that mill becomes operational, we are very confident that price of rice will crash in Kogi and people will have access to quality rice to compete with rice in any part of the world. In no distant time; we have said by December, we shall sell rice and we are very confident as from December 2017 price of rice will crash in Kogi State. It will not only feed Kogi but other neighbouring states and improve our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).

What is your advice to farmers in Kogi?

They should go and till the ground; they should go and work. The way to go now is farming. Even in the world over, attention has shifted from oil, it has come to agriculture. Agriculture is now the bedrock of the Nigerian economy. It is the only avenue where to create wealth, where to create job. And in Kogi now, His Excellency, has made it abundantly clear that he will diversify Kogi economy using agriculture. The best time to farm is right now. We have intervention programmes in agriculture to support the youth, who are willing to take to farming. They should come to Ministry of Agriculture so that they can tap into windows of opportunities to better their lives.