‘Kwara Is Taking Agric to the Next Level’ - Abdulfatah Ahmed, Kwara State governor, speaks on how his administration is transforming the investment climate in the state. He spoke to Tajudeen Suleiman, associate editor. Excerpts:
Some states and regions desirous of attracting investments are convening investments and agric summit where experts and stakeholders discuss policies and actions. Are you looking in that direction?
We are looking forward to ultimately come up with an agric summit. By the time we are able to set up the agric master plan, which will showcase our potential, we will now get prospective investors. Under an agric summit, we will begin to see what we have and what we require to be given to be able to take us to that level that we desire. I know its also being looked at, at the sub-regional, that is, the North-central zone, and of course the Northern Governors’ Forum is also looking at it.
But for us as a state, we are looking at a platform where by the time we get back in June, having gotten our master plan in place, that we define the kind of agric city we want to develop into a hub for agric growth, we will now hold a summit to showcase our potential and look at other new inputs that would aid us to get to the desired level.
Every state has comparative advantage in terms of resources. What are the advantages you have in Kwara and what are you doing to leverage on them?
The first advantage we have is water; fresh water is available in abundance here in Kwara. The second is fertile soil to the extent that it supports a lot of cropping activities that are typical of the savannah area such as legumes, grains and tubers, and also supportive of some tree crops such as cocoa and palm fruits.
Our zone, the North-central zone, has given us that advantage. Another advantage we have is people. The population of Kwara is about three million people, and 60 per cent of them are youths. That tells you that we have a strong workforce, yearning and waiting for activities to move them to the next level. Also there is enough sunshine, and of course the winds are quite good here. Another advantage we have is a huge deposit of solid minerals. Currently what we have is just a plethora of illegal mining going on here and there for precious stones, tantalite and gold. But of recent we have been able to partner with a few prospective investors who will be coming in to invest in solid minerals. So you will begin to see a lot of activities coming on hopefully during the second year of our administration revolving around solid mineral development, which is a good source of revenue and employment for the state.
How is your administration keying into the Transformation Agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan?
Kwara State is one of the few states that has keyed in earlier enough into the transformational agenda of the federal government, especially on agriculture and youth development. For youth development, it is quite understandable because the youth minister is from here; we have always conceptualised how to develop a youth programme. I was not surprised when I saw the minister coming up with a programme like that at the federal level. It is a reflection of a well-articulated programme, which we have always thought of. The second is agriculture. For agriculture, I see a situation where Kwara State has automatically keyed into the federal government’s Transformation Agenda, largely because we are benchmarking against best practices. The concept of value chain, cooperative development and funding agric away from social agric business is all benchmarked against best practices. And that is why what we are doing is in synergy with what is happening at the federal level.
Peace is an essential component of an enabling environment for investments, and we know that many states in the North have security challenges. What are you doing to forestall Boko Haram attacks in kwara?
On the social pact, we have tried to see how to create a strong platform to empower our youths because we see them as not only a strong part of the population, also, if they are not properly managed, they would become useable by miscreants. So our youth empowerment schemes are very strong here and we have a lot more coming up on board to ensure they are gradually integrated into the system on a sustainable basis. The second leg of it is that we are providing resources for the security agencies where we have a strong security platform comprising of the police, airforce, army and the para-military support groups. This has seen us having a strong security system that is reviewed almost fortnightly so that we begin to look at areas of challenges, needs and support.
But most importantly, we’re also engaging our locals. The vigilante groups have also been incorporated into the policing concept and security system in their various localities. Thus they are able to always work hand-in-hand with the security agencies to ensure we have a strong information database to support our security system. I know that it is capital intensive, but we are trying everything humanly possible within our resources to ensure that funds are available for the security agencies. But for the vigilante, we have a kind of pact with the local governments who also augment support for them to ensure they function properly in each of the local governments.
There are complaints by some governors about the current revenue allocation formula, which is described as unfavourable to the states. What are your views on this?
First I will tell you that I am not comfortable with the current revenue sharing formula because I believe that much more should be given to the states. This has to be so because I strongly believe that some of the responsibilities the federal government is carrying can only have the desired impact if they are channelled through the states and the resources to realise them are also channelled through the states. That is when we can begin to make real impact. If you look at many of these federal government policies, they are desirable. But you cannot manage these things from the federal level.
Look at the ministry of education, under its funding support for primary education has been able to carve out the UBEC concept. If this concept is applied to other areas like agriculture, states, especially like ours which is desirous of taking agriculture to the next level, would be able to make more impact. If it is extended to the health and water resources sectors, you will begin to see greater impact at the local levels. The government says it wants to develop four major crops – rice, maize, soya and cassava. Some states like Kwara have already driven this policy to a level that is even ahead of the federal government. We have since developed the value chain concept of agriculture in the state. Today, the commercial farmers we have in Shonga produce the fresh milk that feeds WAMCO in developing what comes out as your Peak Milk today. It was developed under the value chain concept. We are now moving our subsistence farmers to commercial farmers. We have enumerated our farmers across the three senatorial zones, and compartmentalise them into locations by farm size and by crops. We are moving them into cooperative groups that would be developed on crop and land sector basis. They will now be tied to some of the big farmers as out-growers. The next level is that we are developing what you call an agric mall – a one-stop shop where inputs for developing farms are accessible through a private sector initiative.
What policies have you introduced in the last one-year of your administration?
We are able to define policies in some core areas that affect our people. One is water. We want to make sure that no one moves more than 500 metres to access potable water. We also want to ensure that nobody goes beyond 500 metres to access primary health care. We are also driving the every child counts policy on education and redefining the quality of education available in the state.
Agriculture is the major driver of the state economy because 70 per cent of our people live in the rural areas as subsistence farmers. We have also identified about 777 communities that require electrification. About 40 per cent was done by the last administration. We are taking on additional 40 per cent within this four-year tenure. We also have the policy on environment, which seeks to make Ilorin as one of the cleanest cities in the country and extend the same to the various local governments. We set up a scheme that would take the youths out of the database to the level of empowerment which will see them getting seconded to private and public sectors and be small entrepreneurs. We started with 2,000 youths and 1,000 of them have been fully engaged in these sectors today. We have generated a database and broken them into different categories – those with skills, and those without skills. We created a funding window of N500 million which is being disbursed to each of them after feasibility assessment. We will soon distribute another N250 million to the next batch of youth entrepreneurs after we conclude the review of their feasibility reports. We have skills acquisition centres being developed. We have been working with a few individuals from organisations overseas, like the National Employers Consultations Association, to develop a curriculum that is market based for the skill acquisition centres. We have gotten the final report that will aid us in developing a strong curriculum to set up an international vocational centre in Ajase. This will see skill acquisition as a major thing that will be developed in Kwara State. Graduates of the centre would be employable anywhere in the world.
But the one that is most important to us is the development of agriculture – going back to agriculture. It is the main driver of the economy of the state. We are using the success of our commercial agriculture to create a platform for development of an agric hub in the state. We are setting up the first agric city. We are setting up a master plan that will give us a programme to develop agriculture in the five years on a state wide strategic growing process. A lot of investment opportunities are coming in to the state to grow agriculture to the desired level. One critical example is a group called Mosillo from the United States that are coming to set up cassava planting and processing. We also brought in some investors from Spain to set up rice plantations in the state. They are Spanish farmers with a consortium, and they are partnering with the state government to set up a venture that would go into developing rice farms for the next five years. They will be investing over €70 billion over the next five years.