In this interview with WALE AKINSELURE, Oyo State Commissioner for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, Mr Oyewole Oyewumi, speaks on the extent to which the “Zero Tolerance for Land Policy” of the state government has yielded results as well as what the state is doing to ensure that the nine farm settlements in the state function to the optimum.
Recently, the state government asked residents to make their land available for agric purposes, in a policy known as ‘Zero tolerance to idle land’. How would you describe the response of residents to government’s call so far?
It is an ongoing campaign. I can say that we have been at it for about 4 to 6 months and the response has been marvellous, such that the initial antagonism that we had from landowners and communities towards investors, who want to go into farming, is beginning to reduce. In fact, we receive so many community leaders, village heads, family heads, on a constant basis, offering their lands to whoever is interested in investing, probably under partnership or lease and rent. So, I will say it has been very successful and we are truly hopeful that in the next couple of years, agriculture in Oyo state will have been transformed as a result of some of these policies and activities.
How many hectares of land have been donated towards this cause?
As we speak, I can tell you that through the policy, we have an additional 150,000 hectares of arable land under cultivation or land preparation in readiness for cultivation. I expect that, in the next couple of years, the growth rate will be in between 100,000-150,000 hectares annually.
There are notions that the state has still not optimized its vast land. What is the state government doing to ensure that land serves all agricultural purposes possible?
We are ensuring that our lands are available for cattle development or cattle production. I prefer the use of cattle development to herding as it is seen essentially as commercial activity like any other agricultural activities that requires investment and management with profit as the motive. This means that the risk element is also present like in any other business. Therefore, the cattle farmer is also expected to do all that any other farmer who grows anything in Oyo state does to produce his or her crops. In advancing the use of land for all agricultural purposes, you may have noticed that we have embarked on some form of sensitisation and advocacy programme on the use of lands in Oyo state. This is because we regard land as one of our assets and the idea is that we should deploy our lands for good agricultural purposes such that they turn into money-spinning ventures. What applies to yam producers also applies to those rearing cattle. Anyone is free to go and negotiate for land to buy, lease, rent or reach an agreement with the owner of the land to build a ranch.
The other side of the story is that Oyo state is currently developing what we call the agricultural zone programme where some portion of our depleted forest reserves are being used for agricultural production, while the forests are being developed somewhere else. We have about nine forest reserves, some part of them that have been depleted either through a legal or illegal logging overtime and run the risk of erosion. These depleted reserves are being rehabilitated and been put out for agricultural purposes. We have received so many requests and application under that arrangement for land strictly for agricultural purposes, not real estates, not mining or any other thing than agriculture and we regard cattle development as parts of agriculture, so, they are also free to apply for land. There is no preferential treatment for or discrimination against anyone.
The state has about nine farm settlements not being optimized due to challenges, particularly the issue of poor access roads. What is the government doing to ensure that these once cherished farm settlements serve the purposes they are meant for?
The verdict that they are not fully optimized at this time is somewhat contestable because every farm settlement as at today is fully occupied. We only experienced a kind of an encroachment on some of those farm settlements by people who are not authorised to be there. So, a review of holders of farm settlements was carried out about a year ago and based on the report that was released on that review, we took some decisions which have helped a lot in bringing some order to the farm settlements. We needed to identify the genuine owners from those who took them and leased them out to a third party. This is because under the regulations that guide farm settlements, holders are not allowed to sublet or lease them out to a third party. So, we have ensured that holders of farms at the various settlements are the genuine ones and they have formed themselves into an association in the community, such that it is easy to identify imposters. However, I know that there is the issue of infrastructure which is essentially the bane of farm settlements, all across the state, particularly access roads, where farmers need to access their farms and to be able to move their crops from the farms to the markets. The state government is working very hard to ameliorate that problem.
First, the Governor Abiola Ajimobi has graciously approved that an average of 20km of rural roads be resurfaced and cleared in every local government and this is actually in anticipation of another project by the World bank, which is a N2.5billion project that has finally been approved. We expect contractors to be mobilised to site in the next month or two. By this arrangement, an average of 50km of rural roads in every local government across the 33 local governments in the state will be done. It is a World Bank, Federal Government and Oyo State Government joint project and it is being structured in such a way that any of the farm settlements that fall within a particular LG is actually given priority over any other roads in the local government. The preparation for this has been a bit long and tedious, but you know that World bank projects entail verifications, consultations, town hall meetings, even with the communities such that they have verify if truly the roads are there as claimed. We have done all of that and the final decision has been taken to start work very soon.
The 2018 budget has been presented to the State House of Assembly, what are the targets of your ministry in terms of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and expanding the sector?
I will start by saying that this budget is actually laying the foundation for the total transformation of agriculture in Oyo State from subsistence, small-scale agriculture practice to a large-scale, commercial, mechanized agricultural practice. In terms of IGR for the Ministry of Agriculture, it hasn’t been too encouraging in the last couple of years. But, I know that, this year, we are going to achieve at least 500 percent increase in our Internally Generated Revenue of the ministry of agriculture. I think our IGR for last year was about N108million and by the grace of God, we are targeting about N500million to N600million on the average.
As regards expanding agricultural production, we are producing between 150,000 and 200,000 hectares of land but that land is not going to be tilled with hoes and cutlasses anymore. Therefore, there is a massive mechanisation project is going on. First of all, we have a project under the commercial agric credit scheme of the Central Bank of Nigeria that is going to make available agricultural equipment such as tractors and other land clearing equipment. Secondly, we are working in conjunction with a Chinese investment firm to begin the production of agricultural equipment, particularly tractors at our Industrial Park on Lagos-Ibadan expressway. The equipment will be for use, not only in the state, but other states can purchase from us. The first order of the state is about 250 tractors which are to be rolled out by September. Third, we are working in conjunction with a marketing company, IITA and Oyo State, to organize an Oyo State Agricultural Investment Summit, sometimes in April or May. What we are trying to do with the summit is to marry all those who have acquired the lands for agricultural production with the buyers of the farm produce. To this end, we have spoken with many multinationals that use farm produce for their production and they are considering working with us. This is just to create a kind of avenue for off-takers or end-users to absorb the product and they have told us their requirements. In the next one or two years, Oyo state, on the average, should be recording N50billion in investment in agriculture alone and you can imagine the multiplier effect of that as well as how that will improve the state IGR.
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