Improved agric. revenue critical to sustainable economic growth — Okojie

Improved agric. revenue critical to sustainable economic growth — Okojie
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By Itohan Abara-Laserian

Prince Joe Okojie, a former aide to Gov. Godwin Obaseki of Edo, has said that prioritising and improving agriculture revenue would help to boost sustainable economic growth.

Okojie, the immediate past Special Adviser on Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security in Edo, spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Wednesday in Lagos.

He said that the COVID-19 pandemic presented opportunities that would help restore the glory of agriculture as an economic mainstay in the country, especially in Edo.

Okojie said that Edo had prioritised revenue diversification and agriculture was playing a major role, with the governor rollong out several programmes.

The former governor’s aide lauded the proactive steps of Gov. Obaseki toward rejuvenating and improving the agriculture sector of the state.

“Over the years, we abandoned our land just because we have crude and everybody gravitated towards playing in the oil and gas sector and forgot our mainstay in the past before the discovery of crude oil.

“However, COVID-19 has taught us a good lesson that we have to look for alternative sources of income.

“During the first wave in 2020, almost all planes were grounded and most economies of the world were shut down; there was no need for crude, and that impeded on our income.

“So, if there is any lesson to be learnt, it is that we have to go back to our mainstay which is agriculture, making sure we are able to produce more to feed ourselves even if we are not thinking of export yet.

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“What we saw happen with the Endsars protest was all fall out of the lockdown due to the pandemic; we need to encourage production of food, there is no better time to drive this message home,” he said.

Okojie said that from the inception of Obaseki’s administration, it was put forward that agriculture was going to be one of his main areas of focus and he didn’t stop there but took steps to actualise it.

“He reclaimed all agriculture lands owned by the government like in Sube, Irua among other places and brought all of them into a land bank and aggregated farmers to be working there.

“You will agree that since we haven’t done farming to this extent in a long time, we had to go through a teething process and people are not too receptive to change, but we have gone through the learning curve and I believe the governor is going to continue to support and sustain the programme.

“When he came up with this idea, nobody knew we were going to have this pandemic, thanks to God, in 2020 we were able to majorly consume Edo rice across the three senatorial districts; we were able to take it from production level to staple, and that is a landmark achievement,” he said.

Okojie said that if the state continued to scale up production at the current level, in no distant time, Edo would be self sufficient, feeding themselves.

He also spoke on how the state had successfully engaged the youth in the programmes of the governor to boost product and improve livelihoods of people of Edo.

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“Our primary focus is to draft the youth and women and we are doing a lot in the regard, and we have a programme with IFAD primarily targeted at youth and women.

“We also have Independent Farmers Initiative (IFI) programme that targets youth and women.

“The governor also has a programme for Libyan returnees where they are empowered in the aquaculture sector and some of them are in their second phase of production across the state.

“In all our production, we make it a point like partnering with NIRSAL to provide technical support, and another firm in terms of mechanisation, and with a seedling company to make sure that we get the desired results.

“We are always looking for ways to partner the private sector, as we speak, we are producing about 1,500 hectares of cassava which H2A Foods and Elephant group off-take for the foreign market.

“There is no way the private sector can do it alone, what we are doing in Edo requires, to a large extent, the collaboration of the private sector and the public sector.

“Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) committed to funding up to 75 per cent of the investment required in the first phase of N91.8 billion, and CBN committed to N68.9 billion provided that the would be investors would demonstrate and show proof that they have 25 per cent equity participation.

“The government is not trying to do business, but creating an enabling environment for investors to strive,” Okojie said.

He also hinted that the first phase where 51,000 hectares of lands would be cultivated had commenced, while 45,000 hectares had been allocated and the farmers had received their Certificates of Ownership.

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Okojie said that by end of February, those investors would start production.

He also said that before COVID-19, the governor had taken steps to open up access roads to ensure easy access from farms to markets. (NAN)

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