Agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy before crude oil discovery in Oloibiri in Bayelsa State in commercial quantity in 1958. During the golden era (1960 to 1969), the sector accounted for an average of 57 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and generated 64.5 per cent of export earnings.
From 1970 to late 2000s, the sector’s contribution to the GDP and export earnings steadily declined because the country’s focus shifted to petroleum exploration. Like every other part of Nigeria, Ekiti State, which lies south of Kwara and Kogi states, is also bounded on the east and in the south by Ondo State with favourable weather for agricultural activities. It was among the states that neglected the agriculture sector.
Ekiti used to be one of the major producers of cocoa, oil palm, kola nut, plantain, banana, cashew, water melon, citrus, timber, rice, yam, cassava, cocoyam, maize and cowpea. But with the discovery of oil, farming was relegated to the background as many of the youth abandoned agric sector for non-existing white collar jobs. This further created more social problems.
However, the story is already changing with the Governor Kayode Fayemi-led administration collaborating with civil society organisations, international organisations, local and foreign investors to revive the agriculture sector. The governor discovered agric potential to industrialise the state, boost Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and provide employment for the teeming youths. With the closure of the land borders last August by the Federal Government, attention has shifted to locally produced rice consumption to fill the huge gap created by the absence of foreign brands. The development provided opportunities for local farmers in Ekiti State to further increase production capacity to meet high demand. Governor Kayode Fayemi’s administration has been investing in agriculture and attracting investors to the sector, especially in areas where Ekiti has comparative advantage.
It is incontrovertible that Ekiti State has a huge potential in rice production which is in large quantities in Igbemo-Ekiti located in Irepodun/Ifelodun Local Government Area, but its capacity has been hampered by poor access to credit facilities for farmers and modern equipment. The famed “Igbemo Rice” is a local rice delicacy loved by residents. Other communities in the state are also involved in rice production but with limited capacity.
However, the story is about to change as a civil society organisation, the New Initiative for Social Development (NISD), is attracting a huge investment from the Government of Japan to boost the capacity of local rice farmers in Ekiti State with provision of requisite facilities. The NISD has entered into a pact with the Embassy of Japan in Nigeria to provide farmers with modern equipment to boost rice production and make the state a leading rice producer in Nigeria. The organisation was presented with a cheque of $148, 209 by the Ambassador of Japan to Nigeria, His Excellency, Mr. Kikuta Yutaka. The project is being driven under the Japanese Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects. The Japanese Embassy hopes that this public-private partnership assistance will increase rice production in Ekiti. It is therefore, providing power tillers and combined harvesters for rice farmers in Gbonyin Local Government Area. Expectedly, the grant, facilitated by NISD, is already eliciting excitement from the local farmers, who will benefit from the project. On January 30, 2020 when the contract was signed at the Embassy of Japan in Abuja with officials of NISD, Ekiti State government and the Japanese diplomats, the local farmers knew better days are here for them.
At the event, Ekiti State government was represented by the Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Folorunso Olabode; Special Adviser to the Governor on Development Partnerships, Mrs. Margaret Fagboyo and Special Assistant to the Governor on Civil Society Matters, Mr. Biodun Oyeleye. While Ambassador Kikuta signed on behalf of the Japanese Government and NISD Programme Manager Mr. Martins Ogunlade, signed on behalf of his agency.
According to the contract documents, the Donor (Government of Japan) will make available to the Recipient (NISD) the grant of $148, 209 or its local currency equivalent as of the date of disbursement, which is March 31, 2020. The project, initiated by NISD in Ekiti, will be implemented in collaboration with Toyota Tsusho Corporation, which will provide agricultural equipment from Yanmar Co., Limited and Mitsubishi Mahindra Agricultural Machinery Co. Limited to the farmers of Ekiti State. The Japanese Embassy hopes that this public-private partnership assistance will contribute to increasing rice production in Ekiti.
Accepting the grant, the recipient agreed to provide the donor with documents relevant to the project such as procurement contracts for products and/or services upon request by the donor. Ogunlade promised that the grant would be properly and exclusively used for the purchase of the products and services necessary for the execution of the project as stated in the agreement. The NISD chief promised transparency in the disbursement of the funds as the agency would not misuse products and services purchased with the grant, even as it promised that the project execution would be in accordance with the specifications and terms of adhering to prior written approval from the donor. Ogunlade further explained that series of reports on the progress of the project would be forwarded to the Japanese government to ensure effective monitoring.
The reports, according to him, include project completion report (including an audit report on the grant issued by an independent accounting body) to be provided upon the completion of the project. He added that the report would outline achieved results in the light of the original goals and objectives as stated in the application proposal for the project, which was expected to include accounting report of the allocation and disbursement of the grant.
While noting that the contract would be completed one year after the contract date, Ogunlade said the rice project is a boost to food security not only in Ekiti State, but in Nigeria. He pointed out that the provision of the facilities would boost the capacity of rice farmers in the targeted area and ensure that the staple food is made available in commercial quantity.
Mr. Olabode thanked the Japanese Embassy for investing in rice production in Ekiti State, adding that Governor Fayemi appreciated the gesture. Olabode said Ekiti needs more support from development partners to boost food security and create more job opportunities for its people. The commissioner further promised that all equipment provided for Ekiti State would be judiciously used. He also assured that the state would be committed to the maintenance and sustainability of the equipment.
Special Assistant to Governor Fayemi on Civil Society Matters, Mr. Oyeleye said the state government’s investment drive has been yielding dividends, which he said would benefit the people and the economy. Oyeleye said: “We really appreciate the Japanese Government through their Embassy in Nigeria for supporting the civil society in Ekiti to bring development to the state. “The support given to NISD is to assist the state government in achieving the five-pillar development agenda under agriculture, adding that civil society has contributed to government’s achievement of this development. “It’s a very great opportunity given to us by Japan for the civil society to contribute towards achieving the five-pillar agenda of Mr. Governor and we are looking forward to such partnerships. This should not be a one-off thing.”
Overjoyed by the news of the grant from the Japanese government, some local rice farmers described it as a welcome development, which would boost rice production in the state. A rice farmer in Imesi-Ekiti, Femi Alowonle said: “We are very lucky in Gbonyin Local Government Area because this is one of the major rice belts in Ekiti. Provision of tillers and harvesters will make our jobs easier and we thank the government of Japan for this. “This modern equipment will assist us to produce more. Besides, it will make more young men and women to embrace rice production because our young generation doesn’t want to work with bare hands again.”
Another rice farmer in Egbe-Ekiti, also in Gbonyin Local Government Area, Ola Ogunmodede, praised the Japanese government and NISD for making the feat possible. Ogunmodede said: “We, rice farmers, have formed ourselves into co-operatives to be able to access loans and inputs. The provision of modern farming equipment by the Japanese will help us to realise our dreams. “The rehabilitation of Egbe Dam by the Ekiti State government which will soon be completed is also a major boost for rice production.” A member of Rice Growers’ Association in Ekiti State, Bode Lucas, urged the government of Japan and other development partners collaborating with the Ekiti State government to extend the gesture to rice farmers in other parts of the state. Lucas said: “We appreciate what the government of Japan has done for our colleagues in Gbonyin, but we have rice farmers in virtually all the local government areas in Ekiti State. Investment in rice production is capable of turning Ekiti State into a major rice producer that can rival Kebbi, Ebonyi and other states because what the farmers need here is support in the areas of credit facilities and state-of-the-art equipment.”