Helping African farmers
Agriculture is increasingly undergoing a process of revolution in Kwara State, starting with the exploits of the Zimbabwean farmers in Shonga.
A Spanish company, Vasolar, plans to launch a N70 billion investment in the state, especially in rice production, writes Biola Azeez.
Aside the assertion that Nigeria’s dependence on oil would not provide a bright future for the nation’s economy, it is largely believed that modern commercial agricultural practice, away from subsistence level, coupled with a determined political will, could provide the necessary growth and development in Nigeria.
The above submission informed the decision of the governor of Kwara State, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, to approve the engagement of a rice producing group of Spanish farmers, Vasolar Consortium, with a view to facilitating a joint venture investment that would see the firm setting up a company for the cultivation, processing and packaging of rice, in partnership with the state government.
Under the transaction, Vasolar Group would invest about N70 billion. Also, under the 70:30 per cent joint venture, the state government will commit about 20,000 hectares of land for the project and also clear the land, while the consortium will provide the larger chunk of investment in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) venture.
In addition, during the negotiation for the venture, the Spanish company and the representatives of the state government agreed that the investment would be in stages in which case, the company would be investing 70 million euros annually for the period of four years, making a total investment of 280 million euros (N70 billion).
Based on this agreement, the state government would allocate 5,000 hectares of land for the process for each stage.
A particular aspect of the transaction involves technical training that would see indigenes and local experts (farmers) in rice production, processing and packaging going to Spain for technical training and some other technologies that the company would be bringing to the state.
This, it was also gathered, would start with the first stage (module) and would also involve research and development.
Findings also revealed that each stage of 5,000 hectares of land is expected to yield 40,000 tonnes of rice annually.
To set the project on, the Spanish rice farmers arrived the state, particularly the prospective location in the northern part of the state, close to River Niger viz, Edu, Patigi and Ifelodun local government areas for soil testing.
Feelers indicated that the were satisfied with the reception they got and were eager to start. The result of the soil test, it was gathered, would largely determine the exact location to site the project.
Therefore, on Thursday, 26 January, Governor Ahmed signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of 280 million euros (N70 billion) on rice cultivation, processing and packaging with the Spanish firm, to officially set the ball rolling.
All the traditional rulers in the state, particularly those from the areas where the project was likely to be sited, and the representative of the Agricuture and Rural Development Minister, Dr Akinwumi Adesina; Director of Agro in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Engineer Moses Adewumi and the Group Managing Director of GTBank. Mr Segun Agbaje, among other dignitaries, were present at the ceremony.
Speaking at the event, the leader of the Spanish farmers’ group, Mr Miguel Gallardo Macias, said Kwara got all it takes to succeed in the rice project, making reference to the River Niger, the sun, and the fertile soil.
He added that the state government’s political will and commitment to develop agriculture would also help to empower the local farmers and improve their earnings and socio-economic life in the area.
The leader of the Spanish farmers, who said agriculture has not been fully exploited in the country, added that Nigeria is not only blessed with crude oil and gas, but need agricultural reform to discourage dependence on crude oil.
He also said that it was not right for the country to import food products such as maize, wheat and rice, adding that there should be free market economy.
He said there is need to imbibe modern technique in agriculture for export potentialities and called for the collaboration of the Federal Government with the state government in the area of irrigation system, adding that the firm was committed to implementing the project according to international standard.
Governor Ahmed, who was visibly elated and enthusiastic about the project, while signing the MoU with the Spanish farmers, described the project as a step towards the delivery of dividends of democracy to the people of the state. “We are focused to move the state forward, especially taking advantage of the platform created by the immediate past administration in the area of agriculture, so as to have a renewed transformation in economic development in the state,” he said.
The governor, who said Kwara is largely agro-based with 70 per cent of the people living in the rural areas, added that the people are traditionally subsistence farmers.
He said the last administration in the state was the first ever to establish private sector-driven commercial farming venture with white farmers in Shonga area of the state, adding that a lot of lessons had been learnt from the Shonga’s white farmers with several challenges.
He said the lessons and challenges are believed to give a new direction of success in developing agriculture as a major fulcrum for economic growth.
“Africa is potentially a haven of investment, especially in areas of agriculture and the potentials are now ripe for tapping because you cannot go wrong with agricultural investment if methodically developed.
Thus, the need to move agriculture from subsistence level to commercial level informed the partnership with foreign investors like Vasolar Group, the governor said, adding that he was optimistic that the project would be another major leap for the state.
Ahmed said the investment would be in four stages, with the state government providing 20,000 hectares of land over four years period and the firm putting in 70 million euros every year in the four-year arrangement, making a total of 280 million euros.
The governor, who said Nigeria usually spend is about 2.6 billion dollars every year to import rice, even when the crop could easily be supported by Nigeria soil and human resources, added that there are enormous opportunities in the project like employment generation for the youth who, he said, make up 70 per cent of the population and about three million of the total human population in the state.
He said the project is also capable of generating additional wealth for local farmers in the state, especially in moving them from subsistence to commercial farming and also serve as a platform to generate wealth and technical know-how for local farmers, who, he said, would travel to Spain for adequate training.
The governor, who sought Federal Government’s collaboration on the project, particularly on farming irrigation, said the state government’s finance could not support the irrigation system needed for exportation and commercial agricultural practice in the state.
It remains to be seen how this partnership between the state government and the foreign group would translate into an economic boost, not only for the people of Kwara, but also the neighbouring states.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.