Old grazing reserves belong to states, not FG, says Oyo government

Governor Abiola Ajimobi<br />


Oyo State Commissioner for Agriculture, Prince Oyewole Oyewumi explains details of the 25-year agriculture roadmap of the outgoing Abiola Ajimobi-led administration, the controversial grazing reserves, dilapidated irrigation facilities and plans to activate and sustain interest of the youth in agricultural businesses with a view to creating jobs and attaining food sufficiency.

Will you explain the agricultural plan in partnership with International Institute of Tropical agriculture (IITA)?
The current engagement that we have with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) falls into two board categories. The first one has to do with the work we are doing alongside with IITA and the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER), also located here in Ibadan. This tripartite engagement has produced a document that is going to serve as an agricultural roadmap for Oyo State over the next 25 years. What do I mean by a roadmap? It is simply a statement of vision of the government, led by Dr Abiola Ajimobi, for the sector in the state.

Of course this has taken into consideration what we call our latent advantages as an agricultural state in Nigeria. As we all know, Oyo State is the largest state in term of total area in the whole of southern Nigeria with over 2.8 million hectares of arable land which also cover the major climatic or ecological conditions of the agricultural sector, starting from the forest region in the south boarding all the savanna located in the north. The implication of this is simply that there is hardly any tropical crop that grows in Nigeria that cannot be grown in Oyo State.

What are the contents of the plan? With it, what do you intend to achieve in 25 years?
The whole idea is focused on the transformation of agriculture in the state from what we call “subsistence farming” which is small-scale farming and not technology driven to a large-scale technology-based commercial agriculture. So, it is the effort in that direction that we are collaborating with these institutions to establish, and it means that we want agriculture to become the foundation, the bedrock of the economy of our state, because that is the area where we believe we have a comparative advantage.

We want to mechanise agriculture. We want to introduce good agricultural practices to our farmers. While we are engaging our smallholder farmers, we are incorporating women and the youths for agricultural production. We are also expanding the scope of agricultural practice to involve large institutions that can now produce agricultural crops that will serve as raw materials to the various industries that we have. So, that is the vision in a nutshell.

The plan should have been inaugurated about eight years. What do you think?
I am sorry to disagree with you because first of all, governance does not end with one government. What we are doing is establishing a vision and I can tell you that it is starting now because a lot of work has to go into understanding how we can have a project or a programme that is sustainable. And as they say, it is better late than never.

The government is involved in so many areas such as infrastructural development and so many others. Agriculture happens to be an area where you don’t see the effect immediately. So, the most important thing is the ability of the government to mobilise the people, particularly those of us in the agricultural sector. And I will tell you that before we started this whole process of writing and putting together the vision, we did a lot of consultation. We had to deal with our communities to re-orientate their mindset.

To be able to accommodate the idea of large-scale farming, if you understand the sensitivity of land ownership in this part of the world, to get our communities to be able to allow investors to come in and acquire a thousand hectares of land, people who are used to working on just two or three hectares, require a lot of planning, engagement and a lot of persuasion and confidence building among the people.

The Federal Government says Oyo is one of the states that the government has grazing reserves. Is the state ready to let go of any area for ranching?
The idea of grazing seems to be thoroughly misunderstood by the people. The fact that an area has been established as a grazing reserve does not mean that the area has been given to the Federal Government.

What I mean is that we see this as a route which cattle are moved in and out to support the herders that are moving, because they are usually and permanently on the move. So let us provide them with water turf and a borehole, so that on their way, they can stop with their cattle to get some water. One or two of those have been put in place by the Federal Government within those areas along that line.

All land belongs to the state and the government holds it in trust for the state. So, at the end of the day, the land through which everyone passes still belongs to the state.

In terms of grazing or ranching, we do not have any objection to the establishment of ranching. We see ranching in the state as purely a private sector affair. If the Federal Government or the World Bank has provided some funds to support ranching, it is very welcome. I believe that that kind of fund can be useful to private investors. There are funds for crop production, examples are the cassava production and rice production. Cattle raring or livestock development is also an agricultural development that can also be supported.

We already have a law underway in the state house of assemble that is going to guide and regulate the establishment of ranches and development of agricultural activities within the state.On the whole, we welcome it as part of the agricultural development in the state and this position is also captured within our policy framework.

One percent of total agricultural land in Nigeria is said to be irrigated. The minister also said that many irrigation dams are here but they are not functional, but in Kano, the irrigation systems are functional, courtesy of the state government. How do you want to revive the irrigation facilities?
It is true that Oyo State has the second highest number of dams in Nigeria after Kano. Kano probably has more than 24 dams for irrigation purposes. Currently there is no doubt that we are not optimising the usage partly because, most of these dams fall between the purview of the Federal Government through the Ministry of Rater Recourses. I am talking about the River Basin Development Authorities.

Most of those dams belong to the Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority, which is the Federal Government agency. However, what we have done is that we have engaged Ogun-Osun river authority on ways which we can reactivate these dams.

The Ogun-Osun river basin development authority, probably and other basin development authorities, have their own unique problems. For instance, I know for over one or two years, we have been engaging with them, but they haven’t had a board that can give the necessary direction such that whatever you discuss gets stopped at the management level and we are all stranded. But I am seizing this opportunity to call on the Federal Government, particularly the Minister of Water Resources, to take the more proactive action in reviving and putting in place management structures up to the board level for the river basin development, particularly the Ogun-Osun river basin development.

The board is supposed to ordinarily compose of state representatives, a commissioner for agriculture in each of the states that is being served. That would have been able to provide information, and give the push, but till today, that board has not been constituted.

The minister was in Oyo State recently and we took him round the various dams, and the requests which we were asked to forward to Abuja have been forwarded. We will continue to engage the Federal Government until we reach where we can be sure that we revive those dams.

Are you making agriculture attractive to the youth?
I believe we are. We are because we’ve made youth involvement in agriculture our focal point in agriculture. As we speak, we have two programmes targeted at youth development. First, we have Oyo State Agric Initiative which, in collaboration with our local government areas, provides lands, largely for the production of cassava and maize. This has been going on for the last three years and the result have been mixed, I must confess, again due to the peculiarity of our own environment and the youths themselves being able to sustain the support what they were being given.

Secondly, we have what we call model farms, where we are focusing on the youths that are being sponsored by the various local governments. One of them is located at Awe; we have a 120 hectares where youths are trained in batches of about 30 or 40 for up to six to eight weeks and then they are given what we call starter packs.

We modelled it after the famous Shongai Farms in Benin Republic. After a visit with the governor, we bought the idea, and engaged the management of Shongai Farms as consultants for the establishment of these farms and it is going to start like a pilot project where they will be given between two and five hectares of land, pick a crop of interest, like palm produce, maize, cassava and even livestock production and once you have developed the necessary skills and experience, we will now transfer you to your local government area where you will be given a bigger portion of land. And there, the local government is also responsible for their wellbeing, feeding and some allowances for their upkeep.

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