Saturday, August 6, 2016 2:51 pm
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
Governor Rauf Aregbesola of the State of Osun has suggested four ways through which Nigeria can transform its mantra of diversification through Agriculture into reality. He made the suggestion as a guest speaker at the 12th edition of the All Nigeria Editors’ Conference (ANEC) in Port Harcourt. Theme of this years’s conference is Economic Diversification as Option for a Prosperous Nigeria The conference which started on 3 August will end this evening after which the editors will depart on Sunday, 7 August.
According to him, emphasis must be on food crop cultivation; Nigeria must stop exporting Agric produce as raw materials but must add value; the country should apply science and technology to farming. Also, Agriculture must be integrated into government policies.
He told the audience the story of Joseph in Genesis, who, because of his prowess in Agribusiness, became the Prime Minister of Egypt. “Many of you would think that because I am a Muslim, I do not know the Bible”, said he. He scratched his beard and stopped for a moment to allow the laughter to subside. Joseph, through the interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dream, warned him of seven years of bounty and seven of famine. During the period of plenty, Joseph was put in charge of harvest and storage which saved Egyptians and even the Hebrews from starvation.
On the first approach, Aregbesola advised that if Nigeria wants to successfully diversify through Agric, it must talk less about cocoa and rubber, but what will feed the people. That, to him,is the starting point.
He argued: “Agriculture is needed primarily for food production. Only well fed people can drive economic development. Good nutrition is the primary basis of good health. Good nutrition therefore drives productivity in two ways; first through good health and secondly the unbounded energy and confidence that come from it. We put in place in Osun a deliberate policy of food production in contrast with cash crop production.
“Agriculture provides raw materials for economic production in the food and beverage industry; agrochemical industry; building and construction industry; pharmaceutical industry; textile, clothing, leather and footwear industry; paper products and printing industry; and rubber products. From history, we have seen that agriculture revolution preceded Industrial Revolution in Britain, United States and Japan.”
He spoke also about value addition to Agric produce. In his words: “We must stop exporting raw materials, we must add value if we need to export for foreign exchange.
Aregbesola explained that the value of exported cocoa increases by 5,000 per cent by the time it returns as chocolate to Nigeria. He narrated to the audience that it was in Ikare where he was born and grew up (though he is an Ijesha), that he saw conflakes for the first time. Now, if you travel to the US, “you would see varieties of flakes (orisirisi), occupying a whole floor of a shopping mall”.
He lamented: “Our cassava still remains cassava , despite that we have truck loads of professors of nutrition! Our yams still remains so, despite the possible varieties of food that can come out of it. Unless we do this, we are joking. Journalists must start the debate.”
In his words: “We should bring innovation to agriculture for farm produce to be converted into secondary products. For instance, our foods have remained the same from time immemorial. It is the same type of foods we derive from our crops in the past that we still do now. Nutritionists, food scientists and food technologists should find better uses for our crops. For instance, coconut in some parts of the world has become big business, with candies, cosmetics, medicine and animal feeds providing an industry that is geometrically bigger than the old practice of just cracking the hard shell and eating the nut. When we find other uses for food crops, this stimulates demand for them.”
He revealed that this is the reason the cocoa producing company in Osun which, for 25 years went moribund had been revived.
On the application of science and technology to Agric, Aregesola went ballistic with statistics on per hectare yields of produce per hectare from one country to another.
He told the audience that Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, but it is a paradox that it is one of the least productive in that area. He explained. In Nigeria, cassava yield ranges from 20 to 40 tons per hectare. Africa, the average is 10; global average is 12.5 tonnes per hectare because cassava is a tropical plant.
The average yield of cassava by India (its southern belt produces it) in 2010 is 34.8 metric tonnes per hectare. Thailand which is in the Tropics like Nigeria, according to Aregbesola, produces 80 metric tonnes per hectare and it is pushing the frontiers to 120.
The Osun governor advised, therefore, that Nigeria must be ” innovatively productive”. He argued that Nigerian editors must also embrace Agric since it is a money spinning venture. “I know some of you editors grumbling about your condition, saying, what type of life is this?”
The last point is that governments must integrate Agric into its policies. He cited the example of Osun’s school feeding programme. “Some critics have said Aregbesola should stop feeding school pupils, I will not stop”, he said. “They even said I was feeding them with crap. I challenge you, editors, visit any Osun school, do not inform me. Taste the foods. They are sumptuous.”
He added that Osun’s empowerment and education programmes are integrated with agriculture. “We also pioneered in a sense, the home grown school feeding programme (OMEALS), in which sumptuous meals are provided for 252,000 elementary school pupils on every school day. We say ‘in a sense’ because the programme had existed in an attenuated form prior to our coming, but our administration gave it a new identity and prominence.”
Because of its success in Osun, Aregbesola revealed that it has now been nationally adopted by the Federal Government. He said further: ” Very recently, our state organised a national induction for other states understudying the programme, preparatory to implementing it in their own states. I have also been invited twice to the British Parliament to share our experience with the world.
The interesting aspect of this programme, according to the governor is that it is integrated with the state’s agriculture policy and local empowerment. He told the audience: “Under it, 3000 community-based caterers were employed, trained and assisted financially to set up. Also, to be able to feed these pupils, 15,000 whole chickens, 254,000 eggs, 35 heads of cattle and 40 tonnes of catfish are purchased weekly from farmers and food vendors. This has kept the farmers in profitable business and even attracted other youths to farming. In keeping with the original objective of making the programme home grown, the O’MEALS has an input supply chain that is linked to our various agricultural development projects. Consequently, our Osun Fisheries Out-growers Production Scheme (OFOPS) provide the catfish used for the school feeding programme while Osun Broilers Out-growers Programme (OBOPS) provide part of the chickens.”
Uduaghan was chosen to play the role of Special Guest of Honour because of his place in the nation’s history as the Governor who made agriculture and non-oil resources as alternative to dependency on crude oil receipts a state policy through the ‘Delta Beyond Oil’ initiative. Uduaghan deployed the Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) scheme to empower farmers in the state from the field through the value chain leading to the export of home-gown and processed spices among other products.
This year’s edition has been tailored primarily to focus on agriculture as a counterfoil to the dwindling receipts from crude oil. Speakers include a rich mix of practising farmers, agriculture financiers and policy-makers.
The Founder of HoneySuckle PTL Ventures, Mosunmola Cynthia Umoru, spoke on Agriculture as Panacea for Unemployment while Mr. Kola Adeniji of Niji Farms talked on Agriculture as a Foreign Exchange Earner. The Chief Executive of Bank of Agriculture, Professor Danbala Danju explained the Role of Banks in Agriculture Financing while Kano-based farmer, Muhammad Abubakar, the Managing Director of L&Z Integrated Farms experientially explored the topic: Making the Most of Agriculture Value Chain.
The President of the Guild, Funke Egbemode, said “the sole emphasis on agriculture for this year’s conference was in response to the falling price of crude oil at the international market which has automatically reduced government’s earnings and revenue base. This is the first the conference is focusing on agriculture in the most pragmatic sense and it is meant to draw the nation’s attention to the limitless opportunities that abound in agriculture”.