Kwara Plans 12,000 Jobs From Agric Project
No doubt, agriculture has been the major source of employment for thousands of Kwara indigenes in the past nine years.
The dream of making agriculture the fulcrum of wealth creation in the state of Harmony began in 2004, with the invitation of some 13 Zimbabwean white farmers to the state by the administration of Dr. Bukola Saraki.
After the initial hiccups, the white farmers led by Allan Jack commenced operation in Shonga, a town in the northern axis of the state with 13 separate farms. The Shonga commercial farm gave birth to the Youths farm centre, Malete, a University town in the northern axis of the state.
One of the expatriate farmers was saddled with the responsibility of training the youths that enrolled at the centre, in the art of commercial farming. And today, many graduates of the centre, who upon completion of their trainings were assisted with take off grant by the state government, have become big time farmers, creating job opportunities for others.
The initial criticisms that greeted the Shonga farm initiative notwithstanding, thousands of hitherto jobless Kwara sons and daughters have found succour in the scheme; either through direct or indirect employments.
Even the displaced indigenous farmers are now better for it. The Shonga farm has provided a ready market for the grains, especially maize cultivated by the farmers. Most of the grains are being bought by the white farmers to feed the South-African imported cows in the Shonga Dairy farm section.
The successes of the Shonga farm might have informed the recent decision of Governor AbdulFatah Ahmedís administration to sign yet another N70 billion Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on rice cultivation, processing and packaging with a Spanish firm, Vasolar Consortium.
The elated governor Ahmed proudly announced that the new initiative would bring about the employment of 12, 000 Kwarans within a period of four years when the American Ambassador to Nigeria, Terence McCulley visited him at the Government House, Ilorin recently.
Speaking shortly after signing the MoU with the Spanish firm, the governor said, "our move will provide employment opportunities for our teeming youths who are 70 per cent of our total population. Besides, it will become a support project for the youth just as it will serve as wealth creation channel for the entire state and its people".
Under the agreement, an estimated sum of N70 million Euros would be expended yearly for the next four years.
Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) Plc would provide the needed lifeline requirements on the side of the government in the joint venture with the foreign company.
The director of Vasolar Consortium of Spain, Reuben Paraje said the topography of the proposed site could produce 40, 000 tones of rice annually from the land so supplied.
"The surface area of Kwara is similar to a particular state in Spain where we plant rice on a large scale. About 40 years ago we carried out an agrarian revolution in the state in Spain. What is amazing in the whole event is that before the revolution of rice plantation; people were migrating from the state. But few years later, when the boom started, they rushed back", he stated.
He added: "In Kwara, the land is good and agric practices in it are not toxic to the environment. These practices will unite the people and provide employment as well. But it is worrisome that the potentials have not been fully tapped. But one other thing we are going to do is to eliminate intermediaries. They are not good in modern agriculture".
Governor Ahmed said the state in line with the modules of the MoU, would provide 20,000 hectares of arable land along the settlements of River Niger. The catchment-local government areas are; Patigi, Edu and parts of Ifelodun.
He opined that, it was in the interest of his administration not to deviate from the path of the commercial agricultural drive of his predecessor, noting that the benefits derivable from large scale agriculture would greatly assist in reducing unemployment problems in the country.
Ahmed said the project was aimed at imparting in the local farmers "modern farming skill" that could turn them into commercial farmers from their present level of subsistence farming.
He sued for the support and co-operation of all traditional rulers in the state to maintain peace at their domains towards churning out the benefits inherent in the investment to all the nooks and crannies of the state.
He stated: "It is our vision under this administration to key ourselves into the programmes of our predecessor especially, in area of commercial agriculture. 70 per cent of our people live in rural areas and mainly practice subsistence farming. We therefore sought the support of the consortium to assist us in moving the sector forward beyond the point we met it.
"It is equally becoming clear that the potentials of Africa are ready to be fully tapped now. In line with this we want to move agriculture from subsistence level to large scale level.
That is why we are investing large sum of money into it. It is something worthwhile considering the sum of 2.6 billion dollars we use as a country in importing rice into the country. Our land can conveniently produce the staple food and we will not shy away from it".
"Our choice of rice is not by mistake, it is a staple food eaten everywhere in the world, so the market is huge. Our step in is in line with the value Change Concept of the Federal Government with a belief that agric could be the kernel of our economy in Nigeria".
Ahmed said the terms of agreement would be private-public-partnership (PPP) basis, adding that the state would contribute 30 per cent equity.
In his remarks, the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Investment to the state governor, Mr. Yomi Ogunsola said that the consortium would also be responsible for sponsoring farmers in the state for overseas training on rice production and processing.
The SSA said that, the farm when fully operational, with about 5,000 hectares of land is expected to produce 40,000 tons of rice per annum.
To underscore the importance of the project, the Emir of Ilorin and Chairman, Kwara state Traditional rulers council led other frontline monarchs in the state to witness the signing of the MoU.
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