Boosting agriculture through innovation
THERE is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria’s population, which is largely made up of small time farmers, can constitute an important job-creating and wealth-creating platform for the country. Sadly, it has been neglected by successive governments since the discovery of oil. Just like, weaning Delta State of over-dependence on oil by massively investing in agriculture is the best way to go. What needs to be done is to adopt the slogan of former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan – ‘Delta Beyond Oil’ and work strenuously to be realise it.
Regaining the paradise lost through prioritization of agriculture was a promise made in the heat of the electioneering campaign by Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa. With ‘Prosperity for All Deltans’ as his slogan, the new governor made it known that he was not only going to attempt to put food on the table of people but also create thousands of jobs for the teeming youths by investing in agriculture. That promise was obviously at the back of his mind when he recently approved a bilateral agreement between the state government and 20 farm-based cooperative societies in the state for the ownership and management of 45 tractors and their component implements in Asaba. The initiative was a demonstration of the seriousness of the government with regard to agriculture.
Going by the terms of the pact, each of the cooperative societies is mandated to pay 40 percent of the total cost of a tractor and its implements which amounted to N6.2 million. The payment schedule which is aimed at allowing farmers to take their destinies in their own hands is spread over four years with each of the benefiting cooperative being required to pay 10 percent of the amount from the onset as a mark of commitment. The Chief Job Creation Officer of the state, Prof. Eric Eboh who signed on behalf of the government explained that the 20 cooperatives were painstakingly selected from a pool of 962 that initially applied for the tractors.
Eboh said, “It is not supposed to be a one-man activity; it is not a sole proprietorship. A cooperative society is made up of co-operators, that is, the original design. So you must have people cooperating to have a cooperative society.”
Comrade Jurist Umeri who spoke on behalf of the selected cooperatives said he was satisfied with the terms of agreement as the initiative would spur youths into agricultural activities.
It was a promise kept in Asaba when early in the month Okowa distributed the 25 tractors and implements to farmers and about N30 million to cooperative societies as part of the inauguration of the Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP) under the job and wealth creation scheme of his administration.
At the ceremony, he lamented the pathetic state of small-scale farmers who still do not have access to finance, a situation he said made farmers unable to invest in basic farming inputs such as implements, seedlings and fertilizers. Okowa challenged financial institutions to make the diversification of Nigerian economy a reality by introducing robust credit policies on agriculture.
He stated, “Despite the acknowledgement that agriculture plays a crucial role in driving economic development, inadequate funding has, inexplicably, continued to be recurring decimal as the bulk of our small-scale farmers regrettably do not have access to credit finance and are therefore unable to invest in basic farming inputs such as implements, seedlings and fertilizers”.
While noting that due to the challenges of financing, farm yields have remained abysmally low, leading to widespread poverty and stunted economic growth, Okowa advised that financial institutions must rise up to the challenge with robust credit policies and agricultural financing if the country is serious about economic diversification and self-reliance. The governor observed that the state had not tapped the abundant natural resources, favourable climatic condition, vast arable land and fertile soil in agro-business for economic growth, employment creation, import substitution and sustainable development. He explained that the PPSP initiative was conceived to help overcome the problems of resource scarcity, poor technology and infrastructure deficit, adding: “We will be failing ourselves and the generation coming after us if we are unable to harness the abundant natural resources God has blessed us with and convert it to prosperity for our people.”
The governor charged the first set of beneficiaries of the PPSP to apply themselves diligently to their business, noting that the fortunes of many people and small-scale businesses were inextricably tied to the success of their business.
PPSP, Eboh argued, was not a fluke as it was designed to facilitate the flow of inputs, equipment, technologies and technical assistance to farmers, agro-processors and agricultural value chain operators. He said the aim was to increase outputs, productivity and incomes, thereby creating jobs and wealth towards prosperity for all Deltans. He said the initiative included a total of 1,000 producers and 1,600 agro-processors (individuals and groups) through the end of the year.
He defended the selection process, saying it had been carefully done to ensure that the support packages reached the right target which is the farmer that owns land and actually needs the support package rather than persons who are not true farmers.
Eboh announced the setting up of a database of farmers in the state which among other things has entries consolidated from a variety of sources, adding that the state government has a fairly comprehensive data base for crops, livestock and fishery farmers.
“The database warehouses information about the farmers including contact telephone numbers, residential addresses, types of enterprise, size of enterprise and location of enterprise. The database provides the state government with handy facts and figures about agricultural production, with which it can readily and confidently engage with private sector investors and partners for job and wealth creation projects such as large scale farming, development of out-growers and development of agro-processing clusters”, he stated.
He noted that a major thrust of the production support and principal element of the ongoing agricultural reforms for job creation is the new private sector tractorisation policy. According to him, the policy aims to promote private sector ownership and management of tractor services with the first stage of PPSP covering six commodities: cassava, plantain, vegetables, poultry, fishery and piggery.
Earlier at the flag off of a training programme for 1,645 youths at the Soghai-Delta Farm AT Amukpe, Sapele Local Council, Okowa said his administration’s interest in Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) was due to the deep conviction that it was the best way to tackle youth unemployment.
“By definition, MSMEs are companies that employ less than 250 persons and available statistics indicate that 97% of all businesses in Nigeria employ less than 100 persons and they account for about 50% of Nigeria’s productive workforce and 46.54% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” the governor stated. “While multinational companies and big corporations get all the public attention and acclaim for their capacity to induce foreign investment capital, MSMEs remain the backbone for economic growth and social development in any society.”
To him, the event was undeniable proof that his administration’s SMART (Strategic Wealth Creation and Provisions of Jobs, Meaningful Peace Building Platforms) agenda was on course as job and wealth creation were the bedrock of the agenda, with YAGEP and STEP (Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme and Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme respectively) as the flagship programmes.
“While previous programmes sought to prepare people for employment, the Job and Wealth Creation Scheme seeks to produce wealth creators and job creators. Critical differences also exist in the selection and screening process, training approach, management system, and collaboration with the organised private sector. This scheme is not your typical empowerment programme that is often cash based; it is a wealth and job creation scheme. It is not about skills acquisition; it is about building a knowledge economy and the overall goal is to equip participants with the technical know-how, vocational/technical skills, values and resources to become self-employed and employers of labour”, the governor declared.
Okowa said, the scheme which was being executed in phases had enabled the government to develop a database of the unemployed in the state, assuring that in six month’s time when the next phase begins, the government will simply pull out the next set of participants from the database as there are opportunities for as many that are qualified to be enlisted in subsequent phases of the scheme.
The training module for the one-week orientation programme included courses in personal effectiveness, leadership and problem-solving to give participants the requisite life skills and mind-set change essential to become successful entrepreneurs. The curriculum was designed in such a way as to expose participants to both theoretical instruction and hands-on experience in existing enterprises.
After decades of neglect, initiatives like this may just turn out to be the panacea to the declining fortune of agriculture and high youth unemployment in the country and wean it from dependence on oil if well handled.