In the lead-up to a two-day Agricultural Summit organised by the Kogi State Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) and scheduled to hold from November 20 to 21 in the state’s capital, Lokoja, ANDREW ESSIEN writes on the ongoing agricultural revolution in the state.
For years, Alhassan Jimoh has cultivated fruits and vegetables in Kogi State, but despite the fact that there are few of such producers in the state, he has nothing to show for his efforts. “I cultivate eggplant and several other fruits and vegetables, but most of the time they perish before they make it to the consumers because of the lack of storage facilities. Sometimes, the middlemen also come to buy and supply to hotels and other places. I have not been able to make as much money as I set out to,” he lamented.
Jimoh stays in Gegu, a Kogi community along the Abuja-Lokoja expressway, but his situation is not different from those of his colleagues across the 21 local government areas of the state.
However, there could be a silver lining if farmers in the state would key into the several programmes that the state’s Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) is putting in place.
Established in 1991 shortly after the creation of Kogi State, not many residents have heard of the ADP besides sign posts in few places with accompanying moribund structures. But the situation today is changing with the decision of Governor Yahaya Bello to restore the lost primacy of the ADP.
ADP was meant to be a World Bank Project, but the global bank did not set out to fund it entirely. It was therefore not shocking that when the bank stopped funding the project, it went comatose even as successive administrations in the state looked away.
Governor Bello has since made it a priority to ensure the appointment of quality hands into the ADP and giving them the nod to raise funds for their projects. He appointed Mr. Oyisi Paul Okatahi as Managing Director of the ADP, and gave him clear instructions to turn around the project. The first action by the ADP new management team led by Okatahi is to develop a Farmers’ Directory. “We need data. We need to know who our farmers are, what they do and where they are, so that we can track their activities and know when they encounter challenges and how best to assist them”, Okatahi explained.
The new management of the ADP is responsible for putting together of the upcoming Agricultural Summit that has been themed, ‘Agriculture: Investment Opportunities.’ The summit would besides having expert presentations and exhibitions, serve as an opportunity to bring together all stake holders, investors, farmers, sponsors, academics and general public, to deliberate and create opportunities within the state. The positive out come of the summit, according to Okatahi, would lead to the creation of jobs within the state especially for youths and women. It would also bring income generation and trade balance, as well as local and foreign investment opportunities, open up cluster farming centres across the state and ultimately create wealth for the teaming population of the state. The summit would also launch the Fair Agric Project (FAP) which is the vehicle to be used to implement the agricultural vision of the governor.
Under this project, the ADP would create ‘Agric Villages’ which would encourage specialisation and help farmers carve a niche for themselves. The idea, according to Okatahi would bring together in one place, all the players in the value chain. “Imagine having a Cassava Village for instance. In such a village, the end to end value chain of cassava will be there. Meaning that people who farm cassava would be there, initial processors like those who make garri, fufu, abatcha from cassava would be there too. Also, premium processors who are into ethanol, cassava flour, and starch would be there as well as an export market. So, they will specialise and people will make value in the processing. That is why when you see cocoa farmers, they cannot compete with chocolate companies but when you can transform what they are producing into value, they can get a lot of money too,” he explained.
Equally important is the ongoing effort at creating an online Produce Exchange platform. For farmers like Jimoh, his fruits and vegetables would then be readily accessible by end-users. The online platform would bring the farmers in direct contact with the buyers with a view to eliminating middlemen who are usually out to exploit the vulnerable farmers.
Okatahi is optimistic that the platform would be a veritable way to ensure that farmers get value for their efforts while ensuring food security in the country. “We are going to come up with an online commodity exchange which is already on our website. We are still developing it, getting some partners. By the time we have the farmers’ directory and reach out to them, they can begin as co-operatives on wholesale basis to list their goods. Today, farmers can lose up to 80 per cent of profits because of the activities of the middlemen. So, if the consumers buy directly from the farmers and cut off the middlemen, the farmers will have higher profit. Again, farmers sometimes cannot sell their produce because of the issue of inadequate storage facilities, especially for perishables like fruits and vegetables. So, when we create the online exchange platform, people can link up with farmers directly to purchase what they want. This will be the first of its kind in Nigeria and it will not be restricted to Kogi State alone. So, we are partnering with logistics companies to help with transportation and we intend to have a standard because that is what is lacking most time in Nigeria. You do something and you do not ensure that it’s up to standard. Once we can enforce standard, people will believe in it because they know that once they come to us, we won’t mess them up. They know that by the time they place an order for 10 bags of beans, they know we will deliver quality beans without weevils.”
Farming is capital intensive, yet funding is a major challenge confronting Nigerian farmers. Access to credit facilities especially for farmers in Kogi State has been very difficult but the ADP is bringing officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as well as the Bank of Industry (BoI) to speak directly with the farmers in simple language.
In the area of security, the ADP is working with communities to secure agro-investments. Specifically, potential foreign investors are made to understand the necessity of employing the locals to handle certain aspects of their farm operations rather than using expatriates. The thinking is that when the communities are part-owners of such projects or stake holders, they are more likely to ensure the security of same. The services of vigilante groups within those communities would also be employed in this direction.
Again, the ADP is working with security agencies and has a plan to use the newly-created Agro Rangers Squad in the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps NSCDC to safeguard agro-investments. However, agro-investors in the state would also be made to set aside a little amount to contribute to what might appear as an informal security trust fund. They are expected to use such money to help security agencies in the procurement of security gadgets or vehicles that would help in providing security for their investments.
Another good news is the move by the ADP to group smaller farmers into co-operatives in order to make it easier for them to access government aid. “We have a culture where people do not want to collaborate to do certain businesses. So, knowing that some of the farmers cannot process the farm produce alone, we are trying to form them into co-operatives so that they can pull resources together to achieve their aim,” Okatahi added.
Today, Kogi is already the number one cassava producer in Nigeria and by extension, number one in the world (Nigeria: 54 million metric tonnes per annum, Kogi produce slightly over 4 million metric tonnes).
Okatahi believes that this summit will help consolidate on cassava production, rice, cashew and also to be number one for other crops such as soya bean and maize. Again, Kogi State occupies a strategic position to lead agricultural development in Nigeria given its natural endowment of resources and confluence of the two major rivers with fertile soil deposits.
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