INTERVIEW: We Are Building Africa’s Biggest Oil Palm City, Chocolate Factory in Ondo -Akin Olotu

Akin Olotu, an agronomist by profession is the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to Ondo State Governor on Agriculture and Agro Allied Industries. In this interview, the former Israeli’s IKN group General Manager speaks on the plans of the Akeredolu’s administration on Agriculture and other sundry matters.

 

Excerpts;

 

One of the electioneering campaign promises of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu is to industrialize Ondo State and create jobs through agriculture; thus, as the man managing agricultural businesses of the Akeredolu’s administration, what have been your achievements thus far?

 

A lot, the journey starts from planning, number one, just like in the banking sector, the bank will like to know their customers, so the first thing we did in the state is to know our farmers we called it KYF (Know Your Farmers) in the state; we carried out a comprehensive registration for farmers in the state so that we can have their data and apart from that we equally brought in people that are interested in agriculture but are not practically interested in it, so that we can have their data too, presently as I’m talking to you, it’s still been uploaded and processed at the ICT centre; that is phase 1; the second phase has to do with making our farmers to access funds i.e. to access credit and you’ll agree with me that CBN has a lot of windows which we have leveraged on; with the commencement of this administration, Mr Governor wrote to express his interest in 5 major commodities and we are working with CBN and we are working with NICON; presently several thousands of farmers in the state, especially cassava farmers, have benefitted and more are still benefiting from the anchor borrowers window and not just that; we have a program that is known as Three Crops Development Agenda and the three crops development agenda is in 3 folds; principally we are looking at Cocoa, Oil Palm and Cashew and this government is not just working on production, we are working on the entire value chain; we want to make sure that we are producing good quality cocoa that we increase the size of what we are producing; the land area for production put into cultivation, not just that alone, to increase our yield per time and to achieve these, training programs has been put in place to build the capacity of our farmers and just about two months ago, Mr Governor distributed cheque that is worth over Two Hundred Million naira to our farmers on cooperative basis and majority of them are into cassava and rice cultivation and not just that alone, we looked at the issue of mechanization and that it’s a big problem and to a very large extent, we looked at the past administration and we discovered that each administration always buy tractors and within a short time the tractors are gone; within 3 to 4 years the state will be back to zero level in terms of tractor; so  mechanized farmers do not have access to these tractors; so Mr Governor said okay, it has to be done in a sustainable way and what we have achieved so far is that we have negotiated with an engineering outfit that will bring tractors to the state and give these tractors to private individuals; cooperative bodies and Agric Engineering Hiring Entrepreneurs ((AEHE) will come together; four to five graduates can come together to form a hiring company; and we’ll have farmers attached to them and thereafter they would go out to prepare their land when the season is over they know that they have to put their tractors in order.

 

Why are you making your initiatives on agriculture private driven?

 

Mr Governor is convinced that Agriculture has to be private sector driven, it’s a business and not just the way it used to be in the time past and as I’m talking to you presently, we have a window of about 2 billion naira for oil palm plantation in the state. We have another window of another 1 billion naira for cocoa farmers in the state, before this month runs out we are raising 1 million seedlings of cocoa for transplanting in 2018; we are raising another 1million of oil palm seedlings to be transplanted in 2018 and the system is we are encouraging different scales of operation, weather it is small scale, medium or large scale so whichever might be your area of interest, you are well covered under the scheme and apart from that the other cocoa plantation, arrangements has been concluded for the 1,744 hectares of land for cocoa plantation that will enjoy tremendously from the 1million seedlings that we are planting. The 1 million seedlings is not just for the plantation alone, it’s for the entire state; we have that plan and it’s going to be a continuous exercise; so that we can reposition Ondo state in terms of cocoa quality, quantity and create jobs for our people and by this the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the state will improve. Also, another initiative of our government, the Rice on the Ridges; is on. We are looking at 10, 000 youths in different aspects of agriculture across the value chain; cocoa, oil palm, rice, pig, poultry, maize, cassava, just any area of their interest so, as from tomorrow the jingle will be on all our radio stations, registration will be directly through manual and online so when they are fully registered, before the month runs out we’ll commence the generic training for them. The generic training has to do with training that cut across agro-business. Immediately after the generic training, we proceed to specialized ones; we want to teach people on fish keeping, we want to teach on aquaculture; and also on hydroponics which is planting without soil; we’ve concluded arrangements and the training will take place first week of November, so you can grow vegetables, foliage for chicken, goat and even for pig’s, rice using very small space even within your house; so all those things are already in place.

 

Ondo is known for Oil Palm Production in Second Republic but today, everything has gone into moribund

Cut in……another major issue that we have identified in the state is inadequate access to land, and we discovered that because of the vegetation in this part of the world, it’s pretty difficult for people to clear land, we have a program known as Land Bank Scheme, under the scheme we are pulling together lands donated by communities, they are bringing the land to the bank, just as you take your money to the bank and when this is done, the scheme is going to organize the clearing, it’s a win-win approach, people that cleared will have their money, they too will be able to give out land for people to farm in a cluster arrangement, to boost cocoa production. Now, apart from the 1,744 hectares for cocoa, there is another 2,000 hectares at Dugbere which we are working on. Mr Governor is working on getting an investor that will come into egg powder-production in the state because we discovered that we don’t have market for eggs, we have egg lock all over and Mr Governor in his wisdom has looked into it and he said okay; what is the way out, if people can produce quality eggs, if people can organize themselves properly then it means we can produce more eggs with which we can feed the factory. Now on Oil Palm, we just acquired 50,000 hectares of land to build oil palm field in the state; it is going to be number one in Africa. It is will be Named Oil Palm City; one location in each of the three senatorial districts.

 

What about the agro allied city on cashew mentioned in the media that the state is working on?

 

Yes, Cashew, you know I mentioned 3 major tree crops that we are focusing on, the Akoko belt, the northern part of the state, Akoko north-east, north-west, south-east, south-west and Ose, those local governments are fantastic for cashew and just like we talked about the oil palm and the cocoa projects, cashew is equally coming up and what we are trying to do in that area is we want cashew estate, I was at Awuga-Akoko a week ago and what I saw there was highly impressive in terms of the land and the vegetation; We are limited somehow for now because of the rainfall pattern here; you know, you cannot do land clearing when the rain is heavy. So we are waiting for November this year before we start our land clearing at a full speed by the special grace of God.

 

What has been the response of investors to the state drive on agricultural development?

 

Arakurin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu has met with hundreds of investors; though not all of them will eventually perform but from all indication, the serious ones are already showing up, some are interested in ethanol projects, some of them are interested in livestock, some of them want to do integrated farming; one of them is interested in the egg powder that I told you about; another key something to our governor, he is of the opinion that our rural areas must be opened up and to achieve this he has a team already under the RAM project to open up our rural roads to upgrade them; make them motorable so that you spend less time in getting to your farm and when you are coming back, you can come back quickly and when you are bringing your farm produce, you can equally bring them to the city. Akeredolu is equally looking at renewable energy; a lot of  contacts has been made in this direction; so that we can power the various farm estate without the national grid; we can use turbine, solar energy and a lot of other possibilities in that direction, I must not fail to mention the chocolate project, although the chocolate project was conceived by the last administration but when Mr Governor Arakurin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu came on board he looked at the whole thing and said that he wants the best for us, not just in this state but the whole of Africa and to achieve that, he upgraded what he met on ground, in terms of the facilities that we are going to use; in terms of equipment and even the building itself, he said he wants a world class chocolate factory and by the special grace of God everything the consultant requires are there, graciously supplied, so that the man will be comfortable here, that’s the consultant coming from the United States; the project was conceived by the last administration but Arakurin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu redesigned it and there is a tremendous improvement on what we met on ground so by the time the project takes off shortly, you can be rest assured that it’s a world class product that is coming out of the state.

 

How do you see agric business in Ondo in the next four years?

 

Another area that is almost taken off my memory is the fishery project; when the governor came in, you know the First Lady, Chief Mrs Betty Akeredolu is a fishery practitioner, we looked at Sunshine Fishery and Mr Governor said that place cannot remain the way it is, that place was abandoned for 8 years, now Mr Governor has graciously approved that state of the art aquaculture equipment should be brought in and we are partnering with a company called LORANTE to make sure that the place comes up seriously so that farmers in the state can have access to quality juvenile, quality fish, quality brood stock and continuous training, so I am strongly convinced that within the next couple of years Ondo state’s IGR would have increased tremendously, farmers in the state would be laughing and I’m saying this that Ondo state is the state to come if you are an investor, you can be rest assured that you have a governor that has integrity and is committed towards his dream, he’s not selfish, he has a pedigree, he has a track record which he has brought into governance, he is not using this position to build his resume, he already has a rich resume; when you have a leader like that, you can be rest assured. If you are an investor, either local or foreign, the first thing  you need is assurance, security and sincerity and all these are available here, as I’m talking to you now, you can now move from Lagos to Ondo state in 30 minutes because when Mr Governor came in he discovered that the road is very bad; when you spend 6 hours on the road for one 1hour meeting, it doesn’t work, and you are returning you spend 6hours again making 12 hours for a 1hour meeting, no investor will like to come back to such a place; so we made an arrangement, we have Air Peace coming from Lagos to Ondo state now on daily basis and now there is influx of people coming into the state. Before, Overland Airline used to come to Akure two times a week but now it is three days in a week; which is an indication that people are coming into the state, investors are coming, all the moribund factories in the state and agro based factories in the state are receiving serious attention and investors are coming. Just last week, the president of Nigeria-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce was here, they are coming in with investors for oil palm plantation, so that’s why I said whichever might be the category of operation you have in mind, whether it is large scale farm, medium or the peasant type, you are adequately covered by this administration. I must not fail to mention that the governor has paid for and loaded our fertilizer stores across the state with adequate fertilizer and procured agro-chemicals and all these are now available to our farmers. Let me say expressly that the last time the state bought fertilizer was in the year 2012; so between 2012 and now, farmers in the state has suffered looking for fertilizer here and there but now we have it at Odigbo, we have it at Ore, we have it in Ondo, we have it in Akure, We have it in Owo, we have it everywhere at a subsidized rate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *