With Joke Adeniyi-Jackson
Growing up farming was viewed as a job for the impecunious. The picture of a farmer was that of a haggard looking man with a hoe hanging loosely on his shoulder. But, that perception changed when my late dad, a lecturer then embraced agriculture. He acquired a vast land somewhere on the outskirt of Ilorin, Kwara State capital and employed the locals to cultivate and tend the farm land. I had the opportunity of visiting the farm on several occasions and it was interesting lending a helping hand. I could recall harvesting and threshing corn to remove the seeds from husks and guinea corn from chaff among other farming activities.
Aside the farmland, at our backyard was a garden where we cultivated vegetables. Dad’s farming was at subsistence level and it did meet our consumption needs; our store house had good supply of food grains. But, after some years he stopped farming for reasons best known to him and that era of agriculture ended for the family. For a long time I wondered why my father shunned agriculture inspite of its benefits, which we relished then. I was to however conclude that farming like any other job requires high level of commitment and perseverance. This formed basis of my query when news filtered in that the Speaker of Kwara State House of Assembly, Rt. Honourable Ali Ahmad and 23 other lawmakers are diversifying into farming. They accessed N40 million loan from the state government to cultivate soya beans and maize spread over 300 hectares of land in Agogo, Ejidongari district, Moro Local Government Area of the state. The lawmakers took the advantage of the N1 billion agriculture loan released to the state government by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The initiative, it is believed, is the first of its kind in the history of legislature in Nigeria. The farmland was cultivated largely for production of soya beans and maize towards boosting food production/security. This effort has been greeted with gale of commendations. It is note worthy that it is an applaudable initiative coming at a time when our mono economic nation is going through economic recession and agriculture is seen as a viable alternative. The steps taken so far towards success of the project deserve applause such as the incorporation of a company, Dodo Integrated Farms Nigeria Limited. However, the lawmakers must see beyond these commendations. Ahead of them lies huge challenges, which they have to brace up to make mark. It must be sounded out to them that farming is no tea party, though it is highly profitable. It is a ‘no pain no gain’ kind of venture. It is not for the lily hearted. It is only those who have the temerity that can survive in the business, given the multi-faceted risks of farming in this clime.
The major challenge is for the lawmakers turned farmers to proof that they did not ‘hijack’ what (loan) rightly belonged to ‘real’ farmers in the state. Recall that the ActionAid in a recent report revealed that smallholder farmers in Kwara State, who form bulk of agriculturists lack accessibility to government supported agricultural credit services. The report was contained in a community scorecard of the participatory valuation by ActionAid Nigeria carried out recently in seven states and the FCT as part of its Public Financing Assessment (PFA).
For instance the report said while the state government accessed N3.3bn Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (ACGSF) a huge number of farmers in general did not benefit from the fund. Now that lawmakers have seamlessly accessed the loan it is incumbent on them to put it to judicious use.
They also have to justify the 300 hectares alloted to them by the state government at a time when youth farmers are calling for the opening of new lands for farming activities. They cannot afford to disappoint Kwarans who are already lauding the project. Remittance of agric loan accessed by the lawmakers as and when due will go a long way to show their level of commitment towards development of agriculture in the state.
They have to proof to other farmers that as new entrants in the field they are players and not jokers in the sector. They have to disabuse minds of people who believe it is aimed at playing politics with people’s psyche.
The state at this time, when it is looking at ways of boosting the economy owing to the consistent drop in federal allocation, have no need for executive or portfolio farmers. The new farmers must be seen to contribute their quota towards economic turnaround via agriculture. All eyes on the lawmakers to make good use of the opportunity to demonstrate to teeming unemployed Kwara youth that agriculture is the way to go instead of struggling for limited white collar jobs.
It also behooves the state government to monitor the new farmers to ensure that they justify the investment.
Nonetheless, with the lawmakers now into farming, they will know where the shoe pinches the farmer and thus legislate to alleviate his sufferings in a bid to eradicate poverty and raise standard of living of Kwarans.
Time will definitely tell the category our law(farm) makers fall into.