Kwara State Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed
Hammed Shittu presents the focus of the Kwara State Government on Agriculture as its instrument of economic revolution and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding worth N70 billion between the state government and Spanish rice investors on rice cultivation, processing and packaging.
The relevance of agriculture in the socio economic growth of any nations cannot be over emphasised. Apart from the fact that, it has created wealth, food, employment among others for the teeming populace, it has also served as a source of inputs to manufacturing industries, thereby improving the standard of living of the populace.
It is due to these factors that, government at all levels always strive to ensure that agriculture remains one of its major programmes, so as to bring new lease of life to the members of the public.
A lot of the output of the sector serves as export commodities for many nations of the world and by this, it would improve the gross domestic product of such nations and whatever accrue from it could serve as foreign earnings for such nations. This can be used to bring the dividends of democracy to the doorsteps of the people.
The government of Kwara state, upon assumption of office appeared to agriculture as its main priority in its bid to make food available to Kwarans and also to create wealth for the teeming populace especially its teeming youths, by fully engaging them in the various farming processes so as to boost food production in the state.
This move by the present administration is not a surprise as the immediate past one led by Senator Bukola Saraki where the current governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, served as commissioner for Finance and Economic Development, had initiated series of agriculture programmes that had direct benefit for Kwarans.
There was the commercial farming at Shonga, Malete Agriculture Youths Scheme, provision of fertilisers to the farmers as at when due among others, all these had served as impetus for the present administration to continue to work on the development of agriculture, so as to make life bearable for the people and also to bring food to the table of Kwarans without any hindrance.
In pursuit of the agenda, the present administration, under Governor Ahmed, recently in Ilorin entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Spanish investors called Vasolar Consortium of Spain, on the cultivation, processing and packaging of rice.
The reason, according to THISDAY checks, was not far-fetched as there is need to take agriculture to another level of development, which hitherto has informed the state government to take such decision to enter into MoU with a Spanish rice producing group of farmers, Vasolar consortium, to facilitate a joint venture for the development.
Cost of Investment
The investment, which would cost a total sum of N70 billion between the two groups, saw the state government to provide 30 per cent of the total cost including land availability of 20, 000 hectares and the Spanish investors would also provide the remaining 70 per cent of the total cost of the investment for the period of four years.
In addition, during the negotiation, the Spanish company and the representatives of Kwara state government agreed that the investment will be in stages, especially to see the company investing 70 million Euros annually for the period of four years making a total investment of 280 million Euros. Based on this agreement, the state government will allocate 5,000 hectares of land for the process for each stage.
THISDAY further gathered that a particular aspect of the transaction was the technical training aspect that will see indigenes and local experts (farmers) in rice production, processing and packaging going to Spain for technical training and some other technology that the company would be bringing to the state.
This, it was also gathered will start with the first stage (module) and would also involve research and development aspect. It was also learnt that, that each stage of 5,000 hectares of land is expected to yield 40,000 tonnes of rice annually.
To start the project, the Spanish rice farmers arrived the state, particularly the prospective location in the northern part of the state, close to River Niger viz, Edu, Patigi and Ifelodun local government areas for soil testing.
Feelers from them indicated that they are satisfied with the reception got and they are eager to start. The result of the soil test, it was gathered, would largely determine the exact location to site the project.
Speaking at the occasion, the leader of the Spanish farmers' group, Mr. Ruben Parajo, said that, "Kwara state has got all it takes to succeed in the rice project; water in the excellent River Niger, sun, and fertile soil”.
He added that the state government's political will and commitment to develop agriculture would also help to empower the local farmers and improve their earnings and socio-economic life in the area.
The Spanish farmer, who said agriculture had not been fully exploited in the country, added that Nigeria is blessed with more than crude oil and gas; thus, the need for agricultural reform to discourage dependence on crude oil.
He also said that it was not right for a country to import food like maize, wheat and rice, adding that there should be free market economy.
He also said that there was need to imbibe modern technique in agriculture for export potentialities and called for the collaboration of the FG with Kwara state government in area of irrigation system, adding that the firm was committed to implement the project according to international standard.
Also, speaking the management of the bank that would work with the state government to finance the project, the Group Managing Director of the Guarantee Trust Bank, Mr. Segun Agbaje, said the development of agriculture would greatly transform Nigeria’s economy. He pledged the bank’s commitment to assist the state in the implementation of the project.
Agbaje said, “Agriculture probably is the only way forward for a country like Nigeria. It is a big step for employment. It is a big step for self food production and import substitution. On our own part as a bank, we will do all we can to assist this great state in performance of this great initiative.”
However, signing the MoU with the Spanish investors in Ilorin recently, Governor Ahmed described the project as a step towards the delivery of dividends of democracy to the people of the state.
According to him, “We are focused to move the state forward especially, taking advantage of platform created by the immediate past administration in the area of agriculture, to have a renewed transformation in economic development in the state.”
Ahmed, who said Kwara state is largely agro-based with 70 per cent of the people living in the rural areas, added that the people are traditionally subsistence farmers.
He said the last administration in the state was the first ever to establish private sector driven commercial farming venture with white farmers in Shonga area of the state, adding that a lot of lessons had been learnt from Shonga's white farmers with its own challenges.
He said the lessons and challenges are believed to give a new direction of success in developing agriculture as a major fulcrum for economic growth.
“Africa is potentially haven of investment especially in areas of agriculture and the potentials are now ripe for tapping because you cannot go wrong with agricultural investment if methodically developed.
“Thus, the need to move agriculture from subsistence level to commercial level through partnership with foreign investors like Vasolar Group”, he said, expressing optimism that the project would be another major leap for the state.
Governor Ahmed said the investment would be in four stages, with the state government providing 20,000 hectares of land over four years period and the firm putting in 70 million Euros every year in the four-year arrangement, making a total of 280 million Euros.
The governor, who said the country spends about 2.6 billion dollars every year to import rice even when the crop can easily be supported by Nigeria soil and human resources, added that there are enormous opportunities in the project like employment generation for youth, who he said make up 70 per cent of the population and about three million of the total human population in the state.
He said the project can generate additional wealth for local farmers in the state, especially in moving them from subsistence to commercial farming, and also serve as a platform to generate wealth and technical know-how for local farmers, who, he said, would travel to Spain for adequate training.
He said the government's choice of rice production project was not by mistake, saying there is a ready market for the product in Nigeria, West Africa sub region and Africa, as rice is a staple food every where in the world. He added that the Spanish firm was engaged because of its expertise and knowledge in rice production spanning more than 50 years.
The governor, who sought FG's collaboration on the project, particularly on farming irrigation, said the state government's finance could not support irrigation system needed for exportation and commercial agricultural practice in the state.
Without mincing words, if this laudable investment starts in the state, there would be mass production of rice for the people and it would also create employment opportunities for the teeming youths as this would reduce the rate of crimes in the state.
“It would also add to the economic value of the hosting communities upon which the project will be located and this would go a long way of boosting the socio economic growth of the State of Harmony and improve the capital income of the populace”, he added.