By ‘Wale Sadeeq
If there is anything that occupies the mind of Governor Abiola Ajimobi, it is how to explore the agricultural potentials of Oyo State. The state is blessed with the largest landmass of 28,454 square kilometer, which makes it unarguably the largest in the southern part of the country. Besides the vast arable lands, Oyo has 22 dams and the largest number of agricultural research institutes namely International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN), Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research (NISER) and Nigerian Institute of Horticulture (NIHORT), among others.
Whereas the governor is tapping into all these to make Oyo the food basket of the nation he also established an agriculture initiative known as ‘AgricOyo’ through which the government has been rallying local government councils, traditional rulers, out-growers and off-takers and corporate bodies to get actively involved in agric business. The overall objectives of creating one million direct jobs across the agric value chain and turning the state into the food hub of the southern part of the country are thus being pursued vigorously by the state government. This is apart from the ongoing construction of 10,000 metric tonnes silos in Oyo town aimed at enhancing preservation, storage, value addition and price stability of food items in all seasons.
Gov. Senator Abiola Ajimobi
Consequently, the governor was in Porto Novo, Republic of Benin, from March 14 to March 15, 2017 on a visit to Songhai Regional Centre, the largest integrated agricultural centre in West African.
On the trip with the governor was the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Olalekan Alli; Commissioner for Agriculture, Prince Oyewole Oyewumi; three Special Advisers and two members of the state House of Assembly. The delegation was received by the Director of the Songhai Centre, Prof. Godfrey Nzamujo.
The centre, established about 30 years ago by Nzamujo, a Nigerian from Rivers State and professor of microbiology and micro-electronics at the University of California, United States, is the largest employer of labour in Benin Republic, with a staff strength of 1,300. In Songhai, it is from the farm to the table, as the centre engages in agric production, processing, packaging, sales and exporting. It is a one-stop centre where all the sectors are integrated and intertwined.
Nzamujo, a reverend father, attributed the project’s survival to the fact that it is run strictly as a business enterprise.
On why the farm was not sited in Nigeria, his country, Nzamujo said he was not welcomed.
Impressed by what he called ‘the wonders of Songhai’, Ajimobi said nothing would stop his government from replicating the integrated farming system in Oyo within the next three months.
“I am highly impressed with what I have seen,” declared the governor, adding “Songhai Centre is an epitome of integrated farming in Africa. From scratch to finish, nothing is wasted. Even a drop of water is used for something. From farming to processing and then to value addition, it is a mixed basket for me.
“If a Nigerian can do this here (Benin Republic), I don’t know what is wrong with us in Nigeria. This is unbelievable. Here, you are trained to think right, to believe in farming, to be godly and to learn the lesson of hard work and above all, to be patriotic. With Prof. Nzamujo and all the experiences we have garnered here, I can assure you that within the next three months, this integrated farm will be replicated in Oyo State. And nothing will stop it,” he said.
To demonstrate the seriousness attached to the take-off of the project, Ajimobi constituted a seven-man committee to midwife the project in conjunction with Songhai Centre. While the Rural Community Development Centre, Awe, with 60 hectares of land, is to serve as mother farm, satellite farms will be established in other parts of the state and crops planted based on the comparative advantage of each zone.