By IME OLA
To augment the state’s monthly federation account, Kogi governor Captain Idris Wada said the state has keyed into the agricultural transformation agenda of the federal government.
The governor who described agriculture as the shortest route to wealth said his state is involved in rice production to reduce dependence on imported rice.
Governor Wasa in this interview spoke on his vision for agriculture in the state noting that if they focus on sector they would be able to generate revenue for the development of the state and create wealth for the people.
He disclosed plans to buy land clearing equipment to clear more land for agriculture.
Why we are in rice in Kogi State
We are in rice because of the agricultural transformation agenda of the federal government. And, we are in rice because we were flooded badly last year. Also, we are in rice because I believe agriculture is the shortest route to wealth: I am talking about genuine wealth. We are also in rice because it is possible.
When the minister said at the National Economic Council that Nigeria imports one billion naira worth of rice in a day, I was taken aback. We all eat rice, but we don’t know the quantum of money that this country is losing every day by the rice that we are eating. We are adding value to other people’s economies. We are keeping people employed in other countries by eating rice which we don’t produce.
So, these were the things that motivated me to look at how we can contribute to rice. And then, with the efforts of the honourable minister and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the federal government has announced the plan to ban rice importation into Nigeria. They are encouraging by providing inputs, by providing extension services, by removing the corruption in agric sector and encouraging people to go into agriculture.
The challenge is for us to produce rice so that we will not import rice. For me, I am in politics to serve: to try and improve the lives of our people. And I see this as one of the ways we can do that in a less complicated way. So, for me, motivation is very high. The reasons are clear. We, as a state, our receipt from the federation account every month is meagre.
Even though we have solid minerals, it takes years and very complicated processes to actualise our solid mineral potentials into wealth. But, with agriculture, with rice in particular, in three months – after planting – you are harvesting. Apart from trading, there is no other way you can make money like that. These are the things that have directed my mind into rice as a way forward for our state.
Solving problems arising out of these solutions
You said that every solution creates its own problem. That is true. In fact, the problems that are arising are problems that I am welcoming because they are motivating us to provide new solutions. And one of the most pleasing developments on our selected rice programme is the way our people have embraced the programme.
We are overwhelmed. We couldn’t clear enough land for people. Everyday, we hear women crying: we want land, we want land. We hear young people crying for land. So, we had to hire more earth-moving equipment to clear more land to allocate to them.
Farm for the disabled
I have always associated with the disabled. I have a much better appreciation of them now after my accident. When they saw what was going on, because they believed in my sincerity and sense of purpose, they joined. And they were given the recognition and treatment that they expected: respect, facilitation and honour.
Generally, the outlook in the society is to look down on the disabled. But, in Kogi State, I have always recognised them. At the time I was campaigning, they had a dedicated vehicle. They followed me into all the nooks and crannies where I was campaigning. They trusted me. And I promised that I was going to implement the agricultural transformation agenda of the federal government at the level of Kogi State. And I am doing that. So they said “this man said so. Let’s go and follow him.”
Vision for agriculture in Kogi State
In terms of my vision for Kogi State, I see that, if we focus on agriculture – apart from providing individual wealth, and apart from providing cheap food for our nation – we as a state, by the model we are implementing, we will be able to generate income, revenue in form of internally generated revenue for the state to augment what we get from the federation account, for the development of Kogi State.
That is the vision I have: that agriculture will form part of wealth generation for both our citizens or residents of Kogi State, as well as the state itself as means of money for development.
Addressing the issue of rising demand for land
The story is spreading in all the local governments on what we are doing. I then directed the leadership of each local government to clear 250 hectares of land. We started by asking them to do a hundred. We were impressed by what they were doing, and we increased it to 250. And we challenged them that any local government that is able to clear 250 hectares, the state will fund another 250, making 500 hectares.
Our people are willingly providing the land. We are acquiring it through a straightforward system. We pay compensation. We bring land clearing equipment, clear the land and then we give it to the smallholders to cultivate. We give them the inputs and then we guide them towards harvest. So far, so good, it is working in all the local governments.
We have nine local governments that were flooded. The flood came with devastation, damage and destruction of environment. We felt that, by planting rice in flood-prone areas, we can beautify the place. We can turn it into wealth by the rice that is being produced. So, we are getting multiple advantages by using the areas that were flooded for rice cultivation now.
Meeting the need for more farm machineries
Our plan is to buy additional earth-moving and land-clearing equipment. We also want to progress into mechanisation. We have used some level of mechanisation such as tractors. We are buying harrows now. We are buying planters. We are thinking of harvesters. We have imported 10 containers of motorised agricultural equipment from China. They are already here. We are waiting for the Chinese manufacturers to come and teach our people how to assemble them.
We are expecting 20 more containers of motorised equipment which individuals can use, to operate on their own farms. I think that is the first stage. The next stage is: as our people settle in, we can now go into more automatic and bigger equipment to clear larger sizes of land for them. If we progress with mechanisation, we will be able to meet this kind of demand. The most pleasing aspect is the warmth with which our people are receiving this idea, that farming is a honourable profession, a means of wealth creation and a means of feeding themselves and the rest of the society.
If, by this small effort, we are able to make some progress towards transforming from an importing nation to a nation that can feed itself, I think we have achieved a large part of our objectives. But I don’t want to take credit for what is happening in the state. We are working as a team. We have the commissioner for agriculture, the Managing Director of Agricultural Development Programme.
We have my friend, Chief A. K. Mohammed, who has devoted his time to help me implement this, and everyone on our team who made contribution, and also the farmers, particularly the women. They are very excited. Every time I go there, they are very happy to see me listen to their problem to see what we can do. Also involved are all our citizens who have taken to agriculture.
Rice milling as part of industrialisation process in Kogi State
On the issue of processing of the rice, first of all, my immediate concern was storage. I talked to the honourable minister about using some of the silos that we have in Kogi State. He has kindly consented to allowing me to use the silos to store the rice while we address the issue of processing.
In the matter of processing, we are lucky that, immediately after the flood, the Korean government through their Korean Development Agency, donated five semi-automatic rice mills to Kogi State. These mills we are in the process of installing at strategic locations in the rice-growing areas of Kogi State.
In addition to that, I want to thank Mr. President and the honourable minister for allocating two of the giant rice mills, out of 40 which the federal government is bringing into the country, to Kogi State. We believe that, with the capacity of the five which we already have on ground from Korea and the two giant mills being given to us by the federal government, we will have adequate processing capacity for rice in Kogi State.
The other crop we are focusing on is cassava in Kogi State. We have a staple crop processing zone at Agbadu, in one of our local governments. Chief James Awoniyi has worked very hard on that project along with Cargill and the federal ministry of agriculture to ensure that the staple crop processing zone is well established. So, in Kogi State, we have cassava staple crop processing zone as well as rice staple crop processing zone programmes. So, with these two, we believe we are on the platform to agricultural transformation agenda in Nigeria.
Bringing experience from private aviation industry into agriculture in the State
I think there are a few elements of my private sector involvement here.
In Kogi State, because of our very poor monthly income, and because of the pressure we have for development, for running of government with very little resources, we have to look for ways of generating additional revenue for the state. Tax is a federal thing in Nigeria. Therefore, as a state, I cannot just raise taxes, but improving on tax collection. We need to give people wealth before you can even tax them.
So, we thought what to do is to generate employment, create wealth for the people and as a consequence raise money for the state to develop the state. So my private sector background has helped in driving me to make possible what may look impossible. It has helped me in motivating those we are working with to produce results, to make their own inputs and to harness what is available to do what we need to do in agriculture. So, I think, in those ways, my private sector background has helped me in the implementation of agricultural transformation agenda in Kogi State.