Honourable Bamidele Adegoke is the Kwara state Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources. In this interview with NAIJ.com's Ibitoye Shittu in his office in Ilorin, the commissioner explained how Nigeria can get out of the current recession through agriculture.
The Federal Government is making efforts to feed the nation through the nation’s manpower in agriculture, How is the state working in compliance with this dictate?
Well, like you know that the agricultural sector is the main stay of the economy now because of diversification. So the state government has positioned itself for training of farmers so that they can have new technology in farming. So when you talk about skill capacity building, those are part of the things we are doing for farmers and it has gone a long way to help alleviate the problems that we have in the agricultural sector.
We have read about agricultural mechanisation in the state, can you give us details about this development?
When you talk about agricultural mechanisation in the state, you can flash back to the coming of the Zimbabwe farmers the mandate of replicating high level commercial farming. As such, the farmers in the state too have been able to borrow from their technology. As the case may be, agriculture is now a business as we are now moving away from the subsistence farming to commercial farming. I think so far so good, we are in the right direction.
What other areas is the state engaging to assist farmers so that they can make huge output at the end of the day?
Yes I mentioned training earlier, the Kwara LDP under the ministry of agriculture here engage farmers in training. You have to know about how to improve seeds. These are the areas where they can have good output and knowing what to do at the right time. And our extension workers are all in the field in the whole sixteen local governments doing so much to make sure that the government helps and contribute to whatever output they are able to come out with.
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How is Tsonga Farm doing and how is it helping farmers in the state generally?
Tsonga Farm is a success story no doubt about it. Like I said earlier, the Zimbabwe farmers, when they came in and I want to use a case of the poultry as an example. The poultry in Tsonga, the output is very impressive and if you look at how that has been able to affect the average farmer in Kwara state, you look at what and how they produce. It definitely goes a long way to help the farmers because they can borrow those technology and Tsonga Farm transfers the technology to them.
For example, long before this dispensation, before the coming of the Tsonga Farms, farmers, let us look at cassava. They do three tons in a hectare and when Tsonga Farms came, Tsonga Farms did forty tons per hectare. But as it is today, our farmers do fifteen to twenty tons per hectare. What that tells you is how they have been able to utilise their ideas and organisation in agriculture to increase income
Kwara North used to be a producer of local rice, what is the state government doing to assist farmers in this area of rice production?
Well like you said, the rice production level is high in the northern part of this state and the state government is not taking it for granted. I have visited Patigi and basically those places where rice is being produced in different locations to have a first hand idea on what is obtainable there. And that is why the government under the leadership of His Excellency, Dr. Abdulfatah Ahmed is saying that we should get the database of these farmers because you must know the people you want to help or assist.
So we are going to be helping them in terms of input in improved seeds so that their output can be good. Then we are going to be helping them with off takers too, because it is not enough for you to just grow rice, you must know where you are selling them. That is where the off takers come in and that is why the governor, His Excellency set up a committee - the off takers man-driven agricultural committee that is going to take care of all these aspects for them.
Fish farming is another system of the agriculture, how is the state assisting the fishermen to improve on their agricultural output in that area?
In the time past, because we know what protein does and how it helps people especially the young ones to grow, we are not taking fish production for granted. That is why fishermen are being trained. The state also gives them input as the fifty percent subsidy on nets, tanks and electric pumps. The subsidy we give because the government wants fish farmers to also be part of this whole agricultural production that we are looking at in Kwara.
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Getting loan for farming is very important and it is hard for some individuals in the state, how is the state being of assistance in the area of loan assessment?
In the time past, the commercial agricultural credit scheme loan have always been put in place. The government tries to stand in for farmers through the ISPO. Get loan from the CBN and then disburse to farmers, but in any case, the government has not relented on that in terms of seeing how we can do that continuously and in agriculture, before you can break even, it has to be a single digit loan. And we all know what the economy is saying right now but we are just making efforts to make sure that we are working together with the bank of agriculture and the CBN so that we can help farmers access loan.
How is the state performing in agriculture generally, ever since you became the agriculture c commissioner?
Well, from where we were to where we are today, I will say we are making a very serious progress and in months to come, we are going to be making more progress based on all the outlined programmes that we want to do and based on the very strongly willing governor who is determined to make sure the diversification from the oil sector to the none oil sector. It is not just by word of mouth but by action and in due course, people will be able to see what we are talking about.
We have talked about accessibility of loans in the state for farmer, but getting land for farming becomes difficult for some individuals. How is the state assisting farmers in this area?
Land is very key in whatever agricultural activities you want to embark on. The government is assisting people to negotiate with communities to access lands especially those who want to go into commercial farming and the Ministry is working hand in hand with the bureau of lands with the discharge for the affairs of land matters in the state – that is their mandate – so that we can truly help the farmers who are genuinely interested in farming but have no access to land. And in the course of all this activities that we are planning for, we will be helping to clear lands for indigenous farmers so that they can also benefit from it.
What challenges has the state experienced so far in the agricultural sector?
Everybody knows what the challenge is now and It is paucity of funds as every state is faced with that, but through the leadership of His Excellency, you can see what the Kwara Inland Revenue Service is doing to jack up our IGR, so that every sector in the state can be touched from house to education and agriculture and I believe better times are ahead. We are not just saying that by mouth, we are making plans and strategies for it.
In a big form and pattern, what other areas of the economy do you think can be engaged to salvage the country out of the economic recession?
It is agriculture all the way but we can still look at mining. Those are areas where we can have the economy turn around as well and if we take those sectors very seriously, it could be a source of foreign reserve for us and I just hope that with all of this together, we can get out of this recession.
Can you elucidate more on how agriculture can get Nigeria out of recession?
Well, taking Nigeria out of recession, yes is the answer, agriculture can do that and that is why if one is watching closing right from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, one would see what the Federal Government is doing and the state is also in line and we are in tandem with what they are doing so that what we keep complaining about. So now, Nigeria imports food from other country. But if we are self-sustainable, we would produce our food. We would not have the need for those foreign exchange, and if we take agriculture seriously, and the government invests so much in it, it will definitely help us get us out of recession.
Youths in the country are increasingly feeling economically marginalised and socially excluded in the government policy implementation which as a result has wrecked havoc to a large extent.
What are the plans of the state to get the young Nigerians along in the policy implementation?
Youths as the case may be in any nation must be taken seriously and when we build the youths, we build the nation. So the youths must be taken very seriously and the Kwara State recognises that and if you look at this government, you will see that all the programmes are always tuned towards the youths. Take the KWABES for example, which is a laudable programme that people talk about.
That has been able to absorb a lot of youths into the mainstream. The Malete Youth Farm is another scheme, where youths are being trained. They come in hundreds of them, get trained and we give them stipend. Then they are able to go set their own business up in the agriculture. So in Kwara State, we do not see the youths as being excluded, all our programmes are built around it. And that is why if you look at the cabinet of this government, you will find out that we have quite a good number youths, which I’m one of them as the Commissioner for Agriculture.
What can be the panacea or the solution to the food scarcity?
Like I said earlier, the way to get out of it is not to keep importing food into the country because we are putting pressure on the naira. So if we want any turn around, you and I must look at agriculture as a business and we must be serious with it and also be committed to producing our own food and solving our own problems. Nigeria is blessed with vast land which is fertile, we just need to put our thinking caps on and do what is right.
Can Tsonga farm feed the Kwarans or even stretch its reach across the nation?
We cannot leave everything in the hands of one entity. Like I said, individuals must start thinking of how they can also contribute their own quota. Tsonga is massive. They are doing so much. And if we have this kind of initiative coming from different quarters, we are going to be different for it.