“Unless Africa uses modern technologies, our farmers output will remain low and we will remain dependent on others to feed us.” These were the words of Akinwunmi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank, underscoring the importance and potential of the agricultural sector in sustaining the people and the African economy. His statement reinforces the fact that investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, translating to an improvement in the lives of millions of people.
The Nigerian Government’s focus on diversifying the economy has led to an increased interest and elevation of the agricultural sector. Against this backdrop Oando and its Joint Venture (JV) Partners, Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) and the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), have invested in improving agricultural practices in Nigeria. Oando and its JV Partners, on Saturday the 1st of December, held the 22nd edition of its annual Green River Project (GRP) / Farmers Day celebration in Igbo-ogene Bayelsa State. In addition to creating the much needed awareness on the importance of agriculture in spearheading the socio-economic development and economic diversification of the country, particularly in the Niger Delta, the initiative aims to make agriculture an attractive and accessible sector to the youth and women through the use of modern farming techniques, formation of cooperative societies and access to micro-credit schemes and provision of the necessary support and tools.
The Farmers Day initiative, which has recorded many successes;at the start took a lot of convincing to get the farmers acceptance of the project. Communities had hitherto blamed oil exploration activities for their poor harvest which in truth was as a result of poor farming techniques and seedlings. Today the initiative’s success story is further validation that oil and agriculture can co-exist harmoniously and boost the country’s growth if given the requisite attention both by the Government and the private sector.
To date Oando and its JV Partners have distributed over 2,711,536 fish fingerlings, 37,669 cassava bundles, 200,563 plantain suckers, 400,051 maize seeds and 87,003 seed yam to the GRP farmers. In 2017 they trained over 5000 women and youth in various vocational skills and 275 youth in Agro skills acquisition, following its mantra to leave a lasting positive impact on its host communities.
Speaking on the need to awaken to the potential of the agricultural sector, President Muhammadu Buhari, through a video recording played at the event said: “Agriculture is the only way we can feed ourselves in a sustainable manner. Active participation in agriculture is our patriotic duty. It will create millions of jobs in the future. We cannot keep feeding ourselves with imported food when God has blessed us with natural resources, we cannot continue to create jobs abroad at the expense of young, energetic, willing and able youth.” He further encouraged farmers who experienced a bad harvest as a result of the floods. He said: “… don’t be dispirited, strive through the challenges. There is a compensation package for all affected farmers and fishermen. I want to assure all affected farmers we will help them. We the Government are with you.”
To support the agricultural sector, the Federal Government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) guaranteed a total of N1,422.4 million to 12,524 farmers under the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme (ACGS) in the third quarter of 2018.According to the CBN’s third quarter report, “The amount represented an increase of 53.1% and 6.5% above the levels in the preceding quarter and the corresponding period of 2017, respectively.” The report went on to state that “Analysis by state showed that 33 states and the Federal Capital Territory benefited from the Scheme with the highest and lowest sums of N210.8 million (14.8%) and N0.9 million (0.1%) guaranteed to Adamawa and Bayelsa states, respectively.” Hence the onus lies on private companies in states such as Bayelsa that received the least amount to boost the agricultural sector.
Through initiatives such as the Farmers Day celebration it is evident that Oando and its JV partners acknowledge the untiring efforts shown by farmers in providing sustenance for the country’s ever-growing population, providing raw materials to the nation’s industries, and contributing substantially to the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.
To further motivate farmers to strive beyond their comfort zone and embrace farming as a means of livelihood, sustenance as well as boost economic performance, the JV issued awards to farmers in various categories such as overall best farmer land; overall best farmer swamp; overall best school; overall best youth cooperative society land area; overall best women cooperative society and the NAOC GRP farmer of the year which was bagged by Dr. Victor Akujuro. The ceremony was capped by performances from cultural dance groups; popular artiste, Duncan Mighty, and a tour of the GRP facility to see food stuffs grown and sold by the farmers.
Speaking at the event, the Chief Operating Officer, Oando Energy Resources, Dr. Ainojie ‘Alex’ Irune, said: “We have built this initiative to outlive our generation. My hope is that future generations will experience the growth of this endeavor and the value it brings. The nation has a lot to learn from this initiative; in how you can take something small and transform it through unity and collaboration into something this successful and on such a grand scale. The onus lies on us as private sector partners and you to take advantage of this unique opportunity and propel your state to become an agro-export state.”
Mr. Lorenzo Fiorillo, Vice Chairman/Managing Director NAOC highlighted the future plans of the Joint Venture for the Green River Project which includes proposed agro skills acquisition training for 350 youths in 2019; a planned empowerment and enhancement of businesses for 945 youth; extension of GRP activities to include four more communities in Bayelsa state and provision of relief materials to flood victims through the Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers and Imo states Government. He further explained that the theme of this year’s event was carefully selected because of the JV’s numerous projects geared towards empowering the youths in particular and the people of the Niger Delta in general.
Calling on more youth participation in future Farmers Day celebrations, Mrs Edina Osifo, a representative from NAPIMS said, “NAPIMS will continue support this venture to make it sustainable. Youths make the best of this initiative. It would be a pleasure to see a youth crowned the best overall farmer in 2019. I also call on women to get more involved.”
In his vote of thanks, the COO of Oando Energy Resources Dr. Irune said: “Over 20 years ago someone decided that this was a good idea. Came together, pooled the resources, supported by people that aren’t present here today and everyone in this place to deliver what we are experiencing today. Without that vision we would not be here today. So I want to thank the NAOC Joint Venture and the FGN for their commitment in making this a reality today. We have a lot of work to do and with the support we have from all our stakeholders especially the farmers, we see a bright future ahead of us.”