SUCCESS NWOGU writes that the agricultural pacts signed by the Kwara State Government with international organisations have become a source of concern for the opposition
Major opposition parties and the Kwara State Government are at daggers drawn over some Memoranda of Understanding on the state’s agricultural development project.
Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed had at the inception of his administration in May 29, 2011 identified agriculture as a major strategy to harness the state’s abundant human and material resources for the improvement of the people’s well-being and for the transformation of the ‘State of Harmony.’
The government had signed a N70bn MoU with Valsolar Consultoria 2006; an MoU with Mosilo Group, United States of America for an agro processing plant, and another MoU for Kwara State Agricultural Modernisation Plan with Cornell University in the US.
When the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Terence McCulley, and the outgoing Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Moshe Ram, visited the state, Ahmed had appealed for support and partnership for agricultural and industrial development of the state.
But the state chapter of the Action Congress of Nigeria and the Campaign Organisation of Commodore Ayuba Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change said the MoUs were attempts in futility.
According to them, the MoUs are meant to give the impression that Ahmed is committed to transforming the state, while actually they are a ploy to enrich the ruling class.
They reasoned that since the present administration had spent over a year, and the two years left for the administration may be spent on electioneering, there would be no meaningful execution of those MoUs during Ahmed’s tenure.
The ACN chairman in the state, Mr. Kayode Olawepo, said any development policy by any serious government must be built around the people.
He stated that the ACN would continue to oppose and expose any design to enslave or impoverish Kwarans, no matter the packaging given to such a policy.
He opined that if any private investor is interested in growing rice or cassava in the state, such an investor should invest its money and negotiate a fair deal for whatever land area needed while the government guarantees the company a friendly environment and protects the interest of the host community.
According to him, what the state is experiencing is a dangerous dimension of Public Private Partnership.
He said, “It is laughable that our government left Kwara for New York to sign an MoU on a project meant for Kwara State, called KAMP. What do those professors know about agriculture in Nigeria? If they were serious about evolving an agricultural policy workable in our environment, why didn’t they go to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan or even Agricultural Rural Management Training Institute in Ilorin?
“And may we sound this warning to them that the people of Kwara will not condone the systemic land grabbing being perpetrated under the guise of agricultural revolution.”
Also, the Director-General of Ayuba Buhari Campaign Organisation, Ismail Muhammed, said the organisation was sceptical about the MoUs and contracts.
He alleged that a similar agricultural project, which was sold to Kwarans under the PDP-led government in the past, had no positive result. He said his group doubted the efficacy of the project and the sincerity of the major actors. He stated that the organisation would have welcomed the recent MoU between the state government and Cornell University on KAMP, but there was no sign of the take-off of a recent MoU between the state and Valsolar Consortium.
“Like many other charades called projects theatrically imposed by the PDP-led government on the people of Kwara State, we await the outcome. We are afraid that this is a journey from nowhere to nowhere as it affects our people,” Muhammed said.
But a faction of the Congress of Nigerian Political Parties, in a statement by its Chairman, Zakari Mohammed, and Secretary, Bamidele Omotosho, said there was an evidence to show that the agricultural project of the state government in the past had an impact on the people.
They argued that if Shonga Farm Holdings was exporting 6,000 tonnes of Cassava to China; and so many crops that had been exported in the past, then the MoUs and contracts are not a waste of time or resources.
To the group, Kwara was not the only state that had signed MoUs. It said some other states in Nigeria had signed MoUs with countries like US, Britain, India and China.
According to them, one of the best alternatives to the dominant oil economy is the agrarian economy, especially when agriculture is the mainstay of the nation’s economy.
Ahmed had said that the MoU with Cornell was a very strategic move to reshape the state’s economy.
He said his administration’s avowed commitment to maximising the social and economic potential of agriculture by not just putting food on the table of the citizens but creating jobs and more wealth, informed the signing of the MoU with Cornell.
Ahmed said, “The five-year master plan maps out a phased implementation of a dynamic, highly productive and sustainable agriculture sector in the state with particular emphasis on the need for exponential increase in agricultural output and linkages among all agricultural support and manufacturing sectors.”
Senior Special Assistant to Ahmed on Media and Communication, Dr. Muyideen Akorede, said that evidence of the benefits anticipated from KAMP was exemplified with the signing of a contract between Kwara State co-owned Shonga Farms Ltd. and Austravia, exporters of dried cassava chips, for the exportation of 6,000 tonnes of cassava chips to China.
He said since inception, the Ahmed administration had identified agriculture as the pivot of its ‘shared prosperity’ programme. He stated that the government was benchmarking against global best practices by partnering with those who had successfully implemented commercial agriculture such as the US, Israel, Cornell and other foreign investors.
He stated that since governance is a continuum, the partnerships were not limited to the tenure of the administration, adding that whoever takes over from Ahmed is expected to continue with their implementation.
He argued that since the majority of Kwara people were farmers, it made sense to build on their strength in agriculture as the foundation for the state’s economic growth.
Akorede said the MoUs would create agro-allied jobs, economically empower the farmers, substantially increase the state’s Gross Domestic Product, attract foreign direct investment and provide more jobs for the youth as well as guarantee food security.
He said KAMP contained a five-year roadmap for making Kwara the hub of agriculture in West Africa.
He stated that the plan was a collaboration among the state government, universities, private sector organisations and international development organisations. He added that to domesticate KAMP, professors from the Kwara State University and University of Ilorin participated in the master-plan design.
He explained that the state government chose Cornell because of its global expertise in agriculture, especially in soil and plant science. Akorede said the MoU with Valsolar was designed to take advantage of the state’s vast water along the River Niger and the quality of its soil to create a rice cultivation, processing and packaging project.
He stated that under the MoU, the government was providing 20,000 hectares of land while Valsolar would invest N70bn over four years.
“Similarly, our MOU with Mosilo Group of the US for an agro processing plant is designed to take advantage of Kwara’s position as the largest producer of cassava in the country at 40,000 tonnes per hectare as opposed to the national average of 15,000. The company is establishing an agro-processing plant, which will process cassava into chips, starch, additives and sweeteners.
“This was a follow-up to the MoU we signed with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture under the Cassava Transformation Programme last February, which was designed to facilitate a market outlet for 660,000 tonnes of cassava through interventions in dried chips, gari/lafun, fufu, fuel ethanol and sweetener,” he said.
Publicity Secretary, Kwara State PDP, Alhaji Mas’ud Adebimpe, said the signing of the MoUs and invitation for partnership with some foreign countries that had excelled in agriculture confirmed the foresight and sincerity of purpose of the Ahmed administration to wipe out poverty in the land.
Analysts, however, observe that no matter how captivating the plans appear, Kwara residents are anxiously awaiting their positive impact.