22nd August, 2011
Â Prince Gbolahan Lawal is the Commissioner for Agriculture and Cooperatives in Lagos State, Southwest Nigeria. In this interview with Kazeem Ugbodaga, he speaks on the roadmap for agricultural revolution in the state and other issues. Excerpt.
What is your roadmap for Agricultural revolution in Lagos State?
We have set up a three-key roadmap to enhance agricultural development in the state. The roadmap with which the ministry will work includes capacity building for the management and key officers of the ministry. This will provide the institutional platform and educate the staff on what is expected of them as individuals and as a team for the achievement and attainment of the ministryâ€™s goals. The second key roadmap is to work on the value-chain to create more jobs and formation of proper marketing strategies, especially on the chain of distribution. These modalities are set to provide an improved business environment for Agriculture, to enhance production system and to facilitate access to market.
The present administration is determined to evolve strategies aimed at helping farmers become more productive and increase investment in areas where there is high potential for agricultural growth and better link to the market. If the staff of the ministry are versed and well exposed to modern technologies, they will make use of it and transfer this to the local farmers in the course of discharging their duties.
In your tour of agricultural facilities, what did you observe?
We have done a five-day tour of the agricultural projects; we started from Agege Abattoir; at the abattoir, I noticed a lot of environmental issues, hygiene issues that need to be improved upon, and I have directed the environmental department to see to all the problems I saw there. I was not also happy with the way the processing of meet was done, that is, after the slaughtering, where the smoking of the skin is done I didnâ€™t like it. It is very unhygienic. I donâ€™t want to use words that will make people not to patronise them but I have already asked them to correct what I noticed.
There are lots of things that they are doing there that are not acceptable. From Agege, we went to Oke Aro Piggery; they have about 3,000 pig farmers there and they have been there for over two decades and they are doing very well. All they need to do is to improve on their skills, the breed they are using there is over 30 years, so there is need to bring in new breed to enhance their productivity.
They have told us their problems in terms of roads and the government is working on ways of address the issues in terms of providing infrastructure, water and electricity; these are the issues that are not restricted to only Oke Aro farmers but generally most farmers are having issues of water, especially the livestock farmers. We went to the Ojo/LASU/Iba Road vegetable farmers. They have four cooperatives and they are doing very well. They had problems with flood, The only complaint they have is insecurity; often times they find it difficult to go to the farms in the evening and they have to be there to take care of their crops. They complain about kidnapping and armed robbery; they have already written a letter to the Commissioner of Police to look into their problem but generally they are doing well there.
What are you doing to address the unhygienic method of transporting meat using okada?
We are putting a task force in place to handle that; making sure that okada are not allowed to transport meat or beef to and from our markets. Some of them also come from illegal slaughter houses; we are going to get rid of that very soon but we are keeping that on check; we are not going to let them know when we are going to move because some of these people are not doing it according to the ministry’s standard.
What are the challenges in your bid to meet the food requirement of the state?
Thatâ€™s the major challenge, we have to understand the fact that 16% of Lagos State land is arable and this is a challenge. With a population of 18 million, it is almost impracticable for Lagos to produce what Lagosians eat but what we are doing is to provide an enabling environment for people that want to produce. What we are doing now is the Agricultural Youth Empowering Scheme (Agric YES); this is where our youths are producing, they have made agriculture very rewarding and attractive to our urban youths. The more hands we have in the production process, the better for the people of Lagos. So Agric YES is a project which I was coordinating and is still under the Ministry of Agriculture. We intend to train 200 youths in a year and the target is 1,000 who will go through training, internship, contract experience with quality training and facilitators.
On the 22 August, we are starting Agric Extension in schools; we have 10 students each from our education districts; so 60 of our students will be in Epe for two weeks and they will be taught the best practice in agriculture. We are also starting with executive programmes which will help to see people that are working and donâ€™t have the time to get the skill. This programme will give them the opportunity because itâ€™s going to be over the weekend and this programme will bring more people into farming and the more hands we have the more the production.
Since Lagos is an aquatic state, what are you doing to enhance mass production of fish as people now complain that fish has become too expensive?
Fifty percent of what is consumed in terms of fish is produced in Lagos, Lagosians are traditional fishermen and the problem of our fisher folks is there in terms of input and we are not going to rule out climate change. Our fisher folks now have to go beyond the 5 km nautical area which is not always easy because they will need outboard engines to go further into the ocean which is very difficult for them; so what government is trying to do is to help facilitate their acquisition of outboard engines and nets. The Lagos State Agricultural Input Supply is doing a lot on that to see how they can help solve such problems. We also know that a lot of trawlers are coming from Southeast Asia; they tend to come even before the 200 km offshore which is affecting our fisher folks.
What are you doing to help farmers in fish preservation?
As a matter of fact, very soon we are going to launch our farmersâ€™ mini-markets. At those markets, whatever our farmers produce will be packaged, processed and be delivered at the mini mart; this will make them produce and this will also reduce post harvest problems because 40% problems of perishable items they bring from other states come up because of post harvest issues. We are trying to see how we can add value to the produce; that is one area we are working on. So, by the time we have this mini markets, our farmers will be producing based on demands and I am sure they wonâ€™t be able to meet the demands of the market. We are just going to provide the enabling environment; we want to see how we can provide access to credit for our farmers, we want to see how we can even assist them by processing their produce, giving value to their produce so that they will be able to earn more.
I want to assure you that before the end of this year we are going to commission the mini marts; we are starting the agro mini marts, the Eko mini mart in Alausa is going to be where we are going to take off. Our farmers will not only produce on demand, they will also be given standards in terms of quality and before you know it, more people will come into farming because itâ€™s going to be more rewarding.
What measures are you putting in place to boost agricultural development?
There is this N1 billion commercial agricultural credit loan set up by the CBN and we are close to accessing the N1 billion loans. It will be given to our farmers in the cooperatives and we also have some commercial farmers that are going to have access to it; itâ€™s a single digit interest credit. After assessing the loan, we have an agency that will oversee supervise it in the ministry. Also, the bankers too are going to monitor it to make sure that the people who get the loan will use it for what it is meant for.